Meet Sylvia: Grameen’s work starts with walking in her shoes

Posted on 04/12/2023

Have you ever walked down the street and thought to yourself, “Nobody passing by has any idea what I’m going through”? You may be overwhelmed with your long to-do list and all the challenges you face. The waiting list to enroll your child in the school you want is impossibly long. The city just eliminated the bus route you take to work everyday. The bank is making you jump through hoops to get a loan. And, as the de facto cook and meal planner, you have no clue what you’ll feed your family tonight.

If that sounds familiar, you have a lot in common with “Sylvia,” a woman who lives with her family in a poor rural village halfway around the world. Sylvia is powerful—the backbone of her family. She works hard and is good at her work. But, just as with you, nobody knows the pressures and barriers she faces until they ask. And that’s just what Grameen does. We start all of our work by getting to know what daily life looks like for the women and girls we work with in developing countries.

So, what is Sylvia going through? She’s worried that profits from her weaving business may not be enough to cover the next school enrollment fee for her children. She needs to go to the nearby market to buy supplies and food, but she’s afraid. With no bank account, she can only carry cash, making her a target for thieves along the route. She would like to get a bank account but that would mean riding a bus—where women are often targets of gang violence and crime—to a distant bank. She’d even like to get a loan to grow her business, but her mother-in-law already bad-mouths her for leaving the house and interacting with male clients to sell her goods. And she doubts the bank, where staff is often unfriendly to women, will back her idea.

Learn more about the connections between individual perspectives and financial health in a FinDev Gateway article by Grameen Foundation Board Chair Elizabeth Rhyne.

When Sylvia does visit the yarn vendor in the market, she knows he won’t negotiate with her because she is a woman. She will be overcharged and her profits will take a hit. From there, she’ll go to buy food using the money she's managed to squirrel away from what her husband doles out. She knows she doesn't have enough to buy much meat today and that her husband will insist she feed what there is to their sons; not their daughters.

Sylvia is a powerful woman. But all through her day, her ability to wield her power for the good of her household is blocked. That’s why so much of Grameen Foundation’s work is focused on breaking down gender barriers to create space for women to show up with their full power.

A description of how Grameen Foundation breaks down gender barriers
Empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty.
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