Empowering African women through micro-finance

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James Blessing
Member since September 24, 2018
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  • Age 23

In Burkina Faso, a woman, her baby on her back, waters crops in the small southern town of Bansora. Her farming is part of a microfinance programme supported by the UNDP. © UNICEF/UNI74781/Pirozzi

In Burkina Faso, a woman, her baby on her back, waters crops in the small southern town of Bansora. Her farming is part of a microfinance programme supported by the UNDP. © UNICEF/UNI74781/Pirozzi

Empowering someone means equipping them with the right resources or tools to make an impact. Therefore, empowering a woman in this sense, is the process of giving support, encouragement and a platform/means to create impact in her environment.

Quoting the now late 7th UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, “there is no tool for development more effective than empowering a woman”. On a continent more in need of development than ever before, women’s empowerment is the key to building the future we have dreamt and still dream of. Women have always played important roles in building the society. However, these roles have long been shrouded in humiliation, violence and discrimination such that they are unable to induce a developmental effect or influence real change.

The concept of micro-financing is one which entails the provision of low-cost financial services such as loans and credits, insurance, savings, fund transfers and payment services to people. The main goal of micro-financing is to help alleviate poverty and foster economic development through aiding entrepreneurs and small start-ups. Micro-finance doesn’t necessarily begin and end with providing financial assistance. It also involves risk management in the form of insurance and aids to beneficiaries in order to productively manage their finances.

For a woman to be empowered, she needs to have access to social, material and human resources in order to make strategic decisions to promote herself. As more African women begin to embrace self-development and self-sufficiency, so has the need for microfinancing increased. More women are beginning to take initiatives and independently improve their lives and contribute massively to their communities. However, many others are still hindered by lack of finance, appropriate guidance, denied access to markets and social resources. It is at this point that microfinance comes to save the day. Micro-financial institutions become the shoulders African women can stand on in societies where women are confined by damning socio-cultural norms.

Through micro-financing, women can achieve sustainable business growth and expansion, achieve financial independency, and generate employment. Achieving the above mentioned automatically improves her self-esteem, earns her more respect, makes her purposeful and sets her on a path of empowering herself and others around her. The economic empowerment of African women is imperative for not only poverty alleviation but also economic growth and development.

Some may argue that micro-financing only corroborates the notion of women playing traditional roles such as earning just enough to support and take care of her family however, studies have shown that not only are women enabled to contribute to their families financially, they also go on to expand their businesses – providing goods and services that creates value to the society, elevate their financial and social status, employ more women thereby paving the way for others, and become more involved within the community and sometimes vie for political positions.

Statistics shows that African female entrepreneurship rates are the highest in the world especially sub-Saharan Africa. About 62% of African women entrepreneurs affirmed that they took advantage of opportunities offered by MFIs and NGOs to start their own businesses. However, business discontinuance rate (8.4%) is also the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Financing difficulties were cited by about 56% of female entrepreneurs as one of the major reasons for their business failure.

Micro-financial institutions could prove to be more impactful by offering additional business programs like workshops, trainings, research and educating women on business principles and know-hows, arming them with the right information on legislative issues, investments and risks. Trainings in the areas of customer-care for example will teach participants of the program how to expand and retain their customer base.

Intensive business trainings due to their nature may sadly be only beneficial to those who have formal education or are literate. Illiteracy can limit a person’s prospects or even their ability to network with clients on a wider platform thereby truncating empowerment opportunities. It is therefore critical for MFIs to tackle illiteracy. To confront this, MFIs should set up basic general education programs with low-costs and innovative methods of educating women.

In conclusion, I am of the sole opinion that women empowerment will engender economic growth and development in Africa. Micro-financial institutions are already playing a commendable role however, more can be done to ensure efficiency.

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