Women, microfinance, and empowerment
by Malavika Balachandran
In developing countries, where society is predominantly patriarchal, women are more likely to live in poverty. In fact, according to the International Labor Office, 70% of the world’s poor are women. Yet women make up a large portion of the informal economy. Traditional banking systems often target men in the formal economy, and thus neglect a large number of women in developing countries. Microfinance enables women to gain access to credit, savings, insurance, and other financial services generally unavailable to the poor. Through microfinance, women can not only establish their own small business ventures, but develop fiscal responsibility and pull themselves out of poverty. Further, the women generally put their income towards saving and making sure children, especially female children, gain access to food, health care services, and education.
Microfinance has led to the gradual restructuring of the roles of women in developing countries. Through this access to financial services, these women are empowered and play a much larger role in managing their families’ finances. Microfinance has also led to the increased literacy of women in developed countries. Yet, the inequality between men and women is far from eradicated; in many cases, husbands have forbidden their wives from participating in microfinance projects. But microfinance has also enabled poor women to leave abusive marital situations through financial empowerment.
The success of women in microfinance illustrates the importance of women to economic development as well as the importance of microfinance to empowerment of poor women. If you wish to learn more about microfinance, this upcoming Friday, the Princeton Microfinance Organization is hosting a colloquium on microfinance, economic development, and global health, featuring many industry leaders, most of whom are accomplished women. For more information and to register, go here.