Issue 9, May 2009
As mentioned in the previous section on Women and the Economy, one of the main barriers to women’s economic empowerment is lack of access to capital. This is particularly true in developing countries where land ownership and family law favors men. Women often cannot get title to family land; inherited land or money tends to go to brothers or directly to women’s husbands. Not only does this make women’s financial situations insecure, but it also means they have no collateral with which to obtain credit – a critical underpinning of any entrepreneurial activity.
Microfinance, as illustrated by the activities of the Grameen Bank, attempts to address this critical shortcoming at the heart of gendered poverty. Grameen’s model is now replicated in many other microfinance institutions.
Overall, the results for women have been impressive and have added to the body of research indicating that women who are given the necessary tools are often more effective agents of family, community, and national development than men.
Women’s microfinance institutions have proliferated, though some believe that their success has been overstated.
Experts within the development field generally agree that microfinance alone will not solve the problem of poverty – female or otherwise. It must be combined with systemic approaches to address the larger burdens that fall on entrepreneurially-inclined women. The bottom line is that, even if a woman has access to credit and has a superlative work ethic, lack of development generally in her country will hamstring her success.
Consider the time use dilemma of women living in poor countries – hours spent looking for firewood, traveling to water sources along bad roads, caring for children and the elderly, and time lost to poor health will diminish a woman’s productivity. Lack of access to education and training will limit her economic growth. To significantly promote women’s economic empowerment, therefore, macro strategies must complement micro strategies.