Why do so many microfinance programmes target women?
The main reason is because women are usually one of the most vulnerable and poorest segments of society – indeed most of the world’s poor are women. Furthermore, it has become apparent that in many instances microfinance can significantly contribute to women’s empowerment by generating additional income earning opportunities either for the women themselves or for the household. Once women start making more visible economic contributions to the household, this can lead to growth in women’s self-esteem, self-confidence and their status both within the household as well as the wider community. Eventually, this provides women with more choices and a greater voice in family and community matters.
MFIs also target women microentrepreneurs because studies have shown that women are the ‘change’ agents of the family since women spend a greater percentage of their income on the welfare of their households than do men. As a consequence increases in women’s incomes improve the health, nutritional and educational status of other household members, particularly children. Moreover, in longstanding programmes, as women have become organised microfinance has formed a basis for addressing a range of other issues such as domestic violence and male alcohol abuse and in regions where women’s mobility is limited women have become more visible and are better able to negotiate in the public sphere. It is also true though that MFIs target women because they have proved to be more reliable borrowers and are more likely to repay promptly than men.