By Dennis A. Espinoza, KF10, El Salvador

Imagine you are a mother or a father to both a son and a daughter.
If you only had enough money to send one of your two children to school, which one would you send?

This question was asked to potential microfinance borrowers at a training session led by GHAPE, a microfinance institution (MFI) and Kiva Field Partner based in Bamenda, Cameroon.

The most common answer among the group of 30+ prospective borrowers was my son but I also heard my daughter, the oldest, none and a few others.

The “right” answer was the smarter of the two children.

Although this is a very real situation for many Kiva borrowers, the scenario isn’t as much a practical exercise as a way to emphasize gender equality. You may have other thoughts on how to resolve the matter but evaluating each child’s talents and overall potential is an attempt to explain that two individuals of the opposite sex should be viewed objectively and equally. The lesson focuses in on GHAPE’s goal of encouraging fair treatment of women. The organization conducts this exercise with all new borrowers in order to establish a basis for relationships within a lending group as well as the overall GHAPE community.

It’s been a few months since I sat through GHAPE’s training session and first heard the exercise but the goal of empowering women came to mind as I was sitting in a recent meeting here in El Salvador working with Kiva field partner, Apoyo Integral. As I met with the four people who currently have the most influence on Kiva’s strategic impact on the alleviation of poverty in El Salvador, I realized I was the only male in the room. As I sat there and quickly reflected on my four months as a Kiva Fellow I realized that most of my co-workers have been women.

GHAPE, founded by a woman who overcame numerous social, economic and cultural barriers, is currently led by a female field coordinator and a female office manager. Apoyo Integral’s coordinator for all Kiva related tasks manages all of her professional responsibilities while enrolled in college courses and commuting a total of three hours the six days a week that Integral’s offices are open. Similarly driven women fill three levels of management above her. Beyond my co-workers, I would estimate that 70 to 80 percent of my client interviews have been with female microentreprenuers.

My direct involvement has only been with two MFIs worldwide and thus very limited but microfinance is recognized as an industry generally inclined towards the empowerment of women. The financial limitations and cultural mores of countries with developing economies have resulted in limited income generating opportunities for women and thus the industry’s emphasis on self-employment. The focus has its share of controversy. Sociologists question the external influence on a local culture and the effects on the role of a man and a woman in the home as well as in local society. From a similar perspective, I’ve sat in borrower training sessions interrupted by men protesting that women should defer all financial decisions to their husbands or fathers.

While I recognize the need to respect a local culture and customs, studies have shown that microfinance is having a significant impact on the advancement of entire families living in poverty by focusing efforts on women. Sitting in the homes of these borrowers and talking to women about their businesses, progress, financial independence, and economic potential, I’ve had an opportunity to see unique advancement firsthand. It has also become obvious, after having worked out of the offices of two separate MFIs, that the impact of the microfinance industry on the progress of women worldwide isn’t limited to those in poverty. The professional opportunities for women within an industry generally focused on the needs of daughters, mothers and grandmothers is inspiring and another step forward in the advancement of gender equality around the world.

So today, International Women’s Day, I would like to specifically thank all of the women within this industry who have paved a path for me to be here today. I look forward to a day when gender equality is universally recognized and discrimination of any type is no longer an issue but until then a simple note in appreciation of anyone who has overcome the prejudice and abuse that can be encountered when working through gender, socioeconomic and cultural barriers, to advance the field of microfinance to what it is today.

  • “Women constitute around 60–80 percent of the export manufacturing workforce in the developing world, a sector the World Bank expects to shrink significantly during the economic crisis” (UNIFAM)
  • “the result of the financial shock is estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 additional infant deaths per year on average in the 2009 to 2015 period– or a total of 1.4 million to 2.8 million more infant deaths, if the crisis persists. Negative shocks are more harmful to girls than to boys: one or more unit fall in GDP increases average infant mortality of 7.4 deaths for 1,000 births for girls compared to 1.5 deaths for 1,000 births for boys.” (World Bank)
  • Percentage of Kiva loans made to women entrepreneurs: 82.35% (Kiva.org)

Join Kiva Field Partner, Women for Women International, today in celebrating International Women’s Day with a global event as featured on the Kiva blog.

Dennis A. Espinoza is a Kiva Fellow working with Apoyo Integral in El Salvador.
Lend to a Kiva borrower in partnership with GHAPE, Apoyo Integral, or one of the many field partners supported by Kiva.


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