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Microcredit for Women Empowerment


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In our research we aimed to offer an impact evaluation of the microcredit program of the Jitpurphedi Woman Agriculture Cooperative. During our week long fieldwork, we visited 14 households in the community and conducted questionnaire based, open ended interviews with the women, who took loan from the cooperative. We wanted to reveal the issues and possible difficulties that woman have to face in reaching their social and economic empowerment. In the followings we are going to present the preliminary findings of the research, identify the main problems women have stated, and outline some suggestions to solve these problems.

 

Positive tendencies in the program

Although expressing some of the shortcomings of the program, women were generally satisfied with the microcredit project. They emphasized that it is much easier and profitable for them to take loan from the cooperative, rather than from the bank, since they do not have to pay a deposit, they do not have to testify their credibility and the cooperative is more understanding than the bank when it comes to difficulties in paying back the loan. They all noticed a positive change in their self-confidence due to the support of the cooperative. Furthermore, although in most of the cases still the husband controls the finances within the household, there was a little improvement in the woman’s empowerment, and their role within the decision making processes of the household. In terms of the improvement of living standard, only two women have claimed that their investment was loss making; therefore their living standard has worsened. The others have either identified a clear positive change, or a continuous stability of their living standard.

 

Negative tendencies in the program

Although all of the women have managed to pay back their loans, they have all listed some difficulties in the payback procedure. One reoccurring problem concerned the change within the microcredit program from an annual to a monthly payment of interest rates. Due to some unexpected medical expenses, the slower return rate of crops and the seasonal differences in the productivity of vegetables make the monthly payback of the loan increasingly challenging to these women. Another commonly identified problem was the insufficient quality of fertilizers, and the difficulties to pick up these fertilizers. Whereas the distribution of the fertilizers happens in the center of the cooperative in Tinpiple, the women in general live 30-40 minutes walking distance from the center, and often they have to climb a steep mountain to get there. It makes the supplementation of fertilizers incredibly tiresome and time consuming for them.

There was one common characteristic we found throughout the interviews. Although there was a current increase in the maximum amount of loan that can be taken, from 30.000 to 50.000, for certain activities this amount still proves to be insufficient, such as buffalo or cow farming. Therefore women usually take another loan in the name of another member of the group, which in the long-run makes it even harder for them to pay back their monthly interest rates.

 

General insights

The analysis of the questionnaires show that husbands still dominate and control decisions, investments and the economic freedom of women, although the overall economic well-being within the households has increased.Thus, we can identify a positive correlation between different types of investments and the rise in overall income. Accordingly, those women who invested in cow, goat or buffalo farming reported a positive change in their living standard and income level. The most profitable investment within vegetable farming was pumpkin. We also noticed differences in the habits and general answers of the people living in Dandagaun and Thulagaun. In Dandagaun respondents were usually more open and responsive to the questions, and also listed more difficulties considering the loan as well as the production of goods. Thulagaun gave an impression of a wealthier area within the community and the people here also claimed to have no difficulties in paying back the loan or sustaining their living conditions themselves. At the same time they were also more secretive when it came to the question of their actual income.

 

Shortcomings of the questionnaire, future recommendations

We consider this short-term research as a preliminary study for a more comprehensive evaluation of the micro-credit program. During the interviews we also noticed some shortcomings within our questionnaire, it was for instance slightly difficult to make generalizations or well supported causalities and argumentation in our evaluation, because the questions were open ended. On the other hand these findings are a valuable starting point to design a long term research and to recommend some minor changes in the program. In terms of future research, there should be more sophisticated questions designed to reveal the issues of social empowerment. As we found out women are not aware of the definition and the implications of the term ‘empowerment’, therefore they are also not aware of their rights and possibilities for empowerment. Since dominantly still the husband controls the loan, women perceive the loan as a way for the husband to contribute to the family household, rather than a tool to empower them. Also school fees were mentioned when discussing the expenses of the families after taking the loan. Even though children being able to go to school with the help of loan is extremely beneficial and serves as backbone for the children and families in general it is not necessarily contributing to women’s own education or future career development. Consequently we would suggest to organize trainings that would specifically show the possibilities and best practices for women to use the loan. This could include presentations held by women who have managed to run a profitable and sustainable business with the help of the loan, as well as business advices for both vegetable farming and livestock management.

Furthermore it would also be beneficial to offer the option for women to have an annual or a monthly payback, even with different rates, for instance monthly 14 percent, annually 20 percent. Also, the cooperative could deliver a certain amount of fertilizers on a weekly/monthly basis to distant parts of the community, based on previous pre-orders, so the workload of women could be reduced and production improved.

 

By,

Susanna Vase and Anett K. Toth

 

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