December 14, 2018 by Jessie Tientcheu, Vice President Global Program Operations, Grameen Foundation
It has been a notable year for women’s economic empowerment. Women’s entrepreneurship is rising globally, with the strongest growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. Ghana has the highest percentage of women business owners globally, according to the latest MasterCard Index. And more women are gaining access to and learning how to use financial services—and becoming more financially independent..
But even as we celebrate those gains, there is cause for concern. Global hunger and malnutrition have increased for the third year in a row—a challenge that disproportionately affects women and children.
As we look ahead to 2019, our goal is to accelerate the gains and turn the tide against poverty and hunger. We believe women are at the heart of this transformation. We know that when women have more autonomy and control over household finances, their families’ health and well-being improve. Women like Madhuri.
When Madhuri was 15, she began working to help support her widowed mother. Relatives objected to her getting a job outside the home, but she persevered with her mother’s encouragement. She became a tailor and slowly built up a clientele. Today, Madhuri runs a business and coaches other women to become entrepreneurs. As a trained Grameen Foundation Mitra, she also teaches women to use digital financial services to independently manage their money. Her greatest joy is seeing her own daughter blossom into a confident and self-reliant young woman.
Creating more opportunities for women like Madhuri requires building a strong ecosystem of support that allows women to take risks, create their own breakthroughs and continue to rise out of poverty. Our work strengthens key elements of an empowering ecosystem:
Improved access to products and services
Worldwide, women are still less likely than men to have access to and use financial services, often because of low literacy, a lack of appropriate products and cultural norms. For example, the average gap in bank account ownership in the developing world is a stubborn 9 percentage points; it as high as 30 points in some countries. Madhuri’s work as a Mitra is one example of designing a service to meet women’s needs. By visiting women at home, she creates a safe space to teach women how to conduct digital transactions and also saves them the time and hassle of going to a bank branch office or a mobile money agent.
Better connection to vital information and expertise
Women are the bedrock of rural agriculture, yet they often do not receive the training and advice needed to farm successfully. Targeted training, whether provided through rural women’s groups or via mobile technology, can help women build their expertise and knowledge. For example, women in Burkina Faso who received our training on climate smart agriculture, nutrition and business principles were able to weather a recent prolonged drought and even increase their food production.
Enhanced market pipelines
As women farmers and entrepreneurs increase their knowledge, capacity and productivity, we must also ensure they have viable markets for their products. Connecting groups to more buyers and expanding the use of technology can help to break down long-standing barriers to more lucrative markets.
Strong peer support and gender equity
Women’s groups have become one of the essential building blocks of rural communities and a vital support system for members, providing a safe place to save and learn new skills. As important, they help strengthen women’s autonomy and say-so in their families and communities. For example, our “Gender Dialogues” in Benin help women and their husbands make joint decisions on their family size and finances. Field agent networks, many powered by women, also play a vital role in providing encouragement, practical support and training.
Madhuri sees the impact in her work as a Grameen Foundation Mitra. The women are eager to learn how to use the digital financial tools and to connect to key government services. With her encouragement (and the support of a few husbands in the community), more women are becoming entrepreneurs. For Madhuri, the future looks bright. Now she is determined to make sure every girl and woman she meets is independent and able to support her family.
Her experience shows the transformational power women can wield given the opportunity and resources to succeed. Together with our partners, Grameen Foundation is committed to ensuring more women are empowered to succeed and advance economically and make and act on decisions for themselves and their households.