Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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.


At April 28, 2009 at 6:45 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

Maybe if the US had a policy of loaning exclusively to women, we wouldn't be in this financial mess. We women are far more conscientious consumers and investors than men, and wouldn't have screwed things up to this extent.

At April 28, 2009 at 10:23 PM , Anonymous Emily Sullivan said...


Be careful with saying "women are far more conscientious consumers"--we aren't. It is way beyond the realm of conscientiousness to buy multiple pairs of $400 shoes, enough clothes to clothe a small village, and multiple x hundred dollar purses, to use an extreme example.
Moreover, your comment implies that men are to blame for the financial crisis. In truth, women are culpable too. All of those banks had women working for them, if in smaller numbers.

At April 28, 2009 at 10:54 PM , Blogger Malavika said...

in fact, i think that the patriarchal set-up of these societies has a large factor in the women's actions. these women view their role in their family as the child-bearer and traditional mother, and thus probably feel obligated to contribute a large portion of their income to helping the children.

and emily is right. both women and men are responsible for the financial crisis. and i think that we don't have to look too far to see conspicuous consumption in women. we idolize this behavior, as television shows/movies like Sex and the City illustrate.


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