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SEEP Gender Working Group: A practical voice for collective action

Gender and Institutions

Issues and Themes. Women were some of the early leaders of the modern microfinance and microenterprise development industry. But as the sector has become more mainstreamed, the skillsets required for commercial banking are ones that men are more likely to possess than women, especially in countries where women’s educational attainment lags behind men’s. Along with deficits in hard technical skills, the challenges that women in the microfinance/microenterprise workplace may face include:                                                                                                . . . . . . . . . . .

Personal security. Microfinance involves travel into remote, impoverished communities where law and order, not just material resources, may be in short supply. A woman travelling alone is more vulnerable than a man, and hiring decisions may favor men for this reason.

Work/life balance challenges. In some countries, women are expected, whether by law or by custom, to quit once they marry. Even where this is not the case, the sheer pressure of balancing family obligations with paid employment can be overwhelming.

Lack or role models. It is human nature for people to hire workers who remind them of themselves. So one of the reason there are not more women is that there were not a lot of women to begin with. Especially in countries where workforce participation by women, including married women, is the exception, there is a powerful need for role models and mutual support.

Hostile or indifferent workplaces. Just as women clients all too often face the reality of domestic violence, women workers in microfinance may face sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination that are banned – and backed up with a functioning legal system – in most developed countries. Even when nondiscrimination is enshrined in law, many developing countries simply lack the resources to enforce the law. This means that institutional policies and cultures matter even more than they would in societies where overt discrimination is simply not tolerated.

Survey: How does your workplace compare?

The GWG’s first learning product was an institutional survey rolled out among its Latin America members. The final report will be ready by the first quarter of 2012. But among the more interesting findings:

Organizational policy and practice. Ten respondents have a gender policy, 3 orgs have gender policy limited to non-discrimination. One has a policy but doesn’t apply it consistently. Six don’t have one at all. The majority felt that (i) there is an understanding of how activities contribute to empowerment; (ii) they have flexibility to change to respond to women’s needs. Fully 70% indicated there are spaces for discussion and reflection on gender.

Challenges. Only three respondents have a policy for gender balance on the board. Only half have a person or committee tasked with ensuring gender integration in planning, implementation and evaluation. Among the most notable statistics: 50% feel that gender impact is taken into account in actual decision-making.

Human Resources. Two-thirds of respondents said they advertise positions in such a way to attract men and women both. Seventy-five percent (75%) say that gender is included in orientation and on-going training in the majority of cases, and a similar percentage reported that they offer equal opportunities for career development. (This may not actually play out that way in reality; there are a lot of barriers to women’s full participation and uptake of such opportunities even if they are available.) Eighty-three percent of respondent organizations say woman have equal opportunity to participate in meetings, and that women are treated fairly in their organizations. Seventy percent (70%) say their working conditions are reasonable for those caring for dependents, but it’s really just the minimum required by law. Fifty percent (50%) say hours are flexible enough to meet employees’ needs.

Gender Balance. Only four respondent organizations had staffs where women are in the majority. Quite a few have no women on their boards, possibly because they have no policy about that. The majority have men rather than women in the leadership roles, though there are many women in administrative roles.

Promising practices.

  • Equal opportunity policy included in recruitment and personnel selection.
  • Positions are posted in gender-neutral language.
  • Position announcements reflect equal opportunity, and give preference for women if all other factors are equal.
  • Focus on women actually taking advantage of scholarships/exchange/professional development opportunity (one will help pay for child care).
  • Leaves of absence, flexible hours.
  • Policy that all personnel can attend family and school events.
  • Grant leave for unexpected family emergencies.
  • “Women with children can leave the office on time, and this is respected.”
  • Providing training to women to help them negotiate their family responsibilities.
  • Promoting payment of sales and products so that the money actually goes to women.
  • Promoting or establishing policies for women’s participation on management committees.
  • Day care.

Challenges and barriers to access.

  • Religious or cultural beliefs that say women belong in home.
  • No one to help with child care.
  • Limited opportunities to market products.
  • No formal government-issued identification, no property rights, difficulty securing loans.
  • Poor product design – using client feedback (majority) half of orgs have products to help women overcome obstacles.

Monitoring and evaluation. Majority of organizations do not have a system to collect and monitor gender data (e.g., number of women who are the decision-makers in how to spend money in home; who have influence on community decisions; who are in leadership roles; who retain control over their own income; whose husbands share domestic duties). Organizations are just beginning to collect this kind of information, and few have processes in place to analyze and use it.

Case Studies and Examples:

Click here for keyword-searchable Case Studies and Examples at the institutional level from among the GWG’s Document Library
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