SEEP Gender Working Group: A practical voice for collective action
2012 Annual Meeting
The Gender Working Group met this year during the 2012 SEEP Annual Conference. Read the notes from the meeting.
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Gender and Clients
Issues and Themes. According to UN estimates, 70% of the world’s poorest people are women and their children. So for microfinance – or any other intervention aimed at poverty reduction – to succeed, it only makes sense to focus on women. Below are some of the themes the GWG wants to keep in sight as we pursue our work:
Commercialization and what it means for women. As microfinance becomes more “mainstreamed” into the financial sector, it operates on more commercial principles, including profitability. The advantage is that more profit means more outreach – as the saying goes “no margin, no mission.” The disadvantage is that poorer clients, who are disproportionately women, are more difficult and less profitable to serve. So as microfinance commercializes, women risk being excluded from a resource that was created to serve them in the first place. The GWG believes that a sustained commitment to women clients is unlikely to happen except by design. We want to be part of that design process.
Overindebtedness: The flip side of the potential disadvantage of commercialization is not that women will be left behind but the opposite: that women will be over targeted. One of the pressures of profit-seeking is that institutions face constant temptation to increase outreach numbers, even if it means making loans to people who are too poor to pay them back. The GWG wants to be a voice advocating for responsible lending that benefits women, rather than the feminization of debt.
“Fauxpowerment” and other unintended consequences: Even institutions with women-only clienteles have a hard time ensuring that their products and services actually make the intended impact. For example, in some cases, women may be the borrowers of record for microcredit loans but their husbands or other male relatives may actually take control of that money. If the man misuses the funds, the woman is still liable for repayment, leaving her worse off, not better, than she was before. Even when empowerment is genuine rather than “fauxpowerment,” women’s gains can inspire resentment and even violence. The GWG recognizes that domestic violence is a reality in many of the communities where microfinance and microenterprise development institutions work. We hope to make introductions, build links, and connect practitioners with resources that can help them mitigate any unintended consequences of their programs. We want to articulate clearly what the “first, do no harm” ethos of social performance management means, specifically, for gender issues.
Client Protection Tools
Click here for a keyword-searchable listing of the Client Protection Tools available in our Document Library.
Case Studies and Examples:
The microfinance industry’s focus to date has been on institutional strengthening. Initiatives are beginning to get underway that “even the scales,” in the words of the director of one such program, a consumer debt relief agency for microfinance clients in Bosnia. Click the link below for an interview in which he discusses their work, including some of the differences between his overindebted male vs female clients.