Empowering women through microfinance in Ghana

By Mei-Ing Cheok, KF 14, Ghana

Weekly meeting for these borrowers

A woman’s role is at home – mainly, in the kitchen – and her chief responsibility is to make babies. Education is not important. In fact, if a woman gets too educated, she might not be able to get a husband. How then, would she make babies?

That makes me – 35, female, tertiary-educated and single – a social pariah in Ghana. And with my dreadful cooking, I am definitely bad wife material here.

Unfortunately, this is still the general perception of women here and in many parts of the world. To make matters worse, title deeds for rural homes in Ghana are usually in the names of the husbands, which leave the wife and children vulnerable to being evicted by the husband’s family, should he pass away. Even a recent intestate succession law (PNDC 111) has not made a significant improvement to women’s inheritance rights because most are still ignorant of the law.

“Indigenous proverbs and metaphors such as ‘the palm tree does not bear fruit in a woman’s farm’ or that ‘If a woman buys a gun, it is a man who keeps it’” … “indicates that women are not supposed to be as economically productive as men are, and even if they are, men control their resources. Men are supposed to maintain, and provide, the economic support for their wives and children domestically. This explains why Ghanaian society seems to invest more inheritance rights on men than women”Women and Property Inheritance after Intestate Succession, Law 111 in Ghana

The good news is that there are groups that are championing women’s rights and yet others, like the Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN) that are empowering them economically.

CRAN’s role in helping women

CRAN is a local microfinance institute that Kiva works with in Ghana. Through its Freedom from Hunger programme, CRAN provides micro loans to thousands of women in rural and sub-urban areas. In my interviews with borrowers, an overwhelming number of them place children’s education and building their own home as top priorities in their lives. Aside from wanting different and better lives for their children, these women are also counting on their offspring to look after them later in life. Financial empowerment is also providing women with another form of security: that they will have a roof over their heads for the rest of their lives.

Chester, the loan officer, and the Credit Association President counting the repayments at the weekly meeting

Director of Operations at CRAN, George Tokpo, explains that the Freedom from Hunger programme is primarily for women because the ‘trickle-down benefits’ of providing women with capital is a lot greater. “When we empower women, they are able to provide for their families. We acknowledge that women are a lot more responsible than men when it comes to the upbringing of their children.”

He adds, “If we empower women economically, we are also attending to the needs of the children.”

AB, Kiva Coordinator at CRAN, hard at work

Another key reason for the focus on women is CRAN’s view that women make better clients. “Women are able to find jobs much more easily than men. They’re a lot more adaptable. If one business fails, they will pick something else up very quickly. Women are able to engage in more regular, income-generating activities.”

For example, if we look at the fishing sector, which has recently had a few hiccups: fishmongers (women) can switch to another line of work, such as selling food or provisions, fairly quickly. However, the fishermen would struggle to find other forms of employment. This adaptability reduces the likelihood of defaults.

CRAN in 2010 alone provided micro loans to about 3,700 women with a cumulative of 21,378 women reached with micro loans and financial services since its inception.

CRAN team: Gifty (in charge of borrower profiles), George (Director of Operations) and Cecilia (journal updates)

Other microfinance services that CRAN provides:

Through CRAN, women also have access to savings accounts and insurance cover. For an annual premium of GHS25 – 55, women are now covered for the following:

Own life GHS1000
Spouse’s life GHS500
Auto Accident Injuries GHS500
Fire/Flood Disaster to Business GHS500
Child Mortality GHS500

(Note: USD1 = GHS1.52 as at 3 March 2011)

In the developed world, these may not seem like huge sums of money, but here, GHS500 goes a long way.

Starting young

Understanding the importance of education, CRAN’s Child Education Sponsorship Scheme (CESS) has a strong focus on providing financial support for girls. 55 per cent of the children who are receiving sponsorships through CESS are girls, more than the ratio of girls to boys in schools, especially above elementary education levels.

Baby steps

There is still a way to go before women enjoy gender equality in Ghana, but it is encouraging to see how civil society and organizations like CRAN are making a positive difference today.

Happy International Women’s Day!

(For more International Women’s Day stories by Kiva Fellows, read Celebrating Women around the World )

Mei-ing is a Kiva Fellow working with the Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN) in Cape Coast, Ghana. She finds the kitchen too hot and prefers to find a man who can cook.

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