First Money, Then Power
Microcredit Loans Make a Difference for Women
Too often words like ignorant, impoverished and oppressed are used to describe women in the Global South. Collectively, Westerners tend to imagine these women as victims. Recent efforts to put economic resources in these women's hands have changed the way they experience and express their power. Governments, schools and civil society organizations alike have recognized that arming women with small loans, as well as helping them develop skills necessary to run their own businesses, benefits women, their families and their communities.
Below you will find profiles of five women who have benefited from microcredit loans. Their stories are part of a photography collection Women Empowered, Inspiring Change in the Emerging World. The photographer Phil Borges captured these photographs and stories for CARE's international campaign for women's economic empowerment. All five women speak of hope, power, leadership and agency and echo the affirmation that CARE strives to instill in women everywhere: "I am powerful."
Amena, 35 Gazipur, Bangladesh
Every year, seven thousand women graduate from the Rural Maintenance Program and start their own businesses. The program targets the most disadvantaged women in the country, most of whom are widowed, divorced or abandoned.
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Juana Perez, 50, Ixtahuacan, Guatemala
Microcredit loans are allocated to groups of twenty to thirty women. If a person defaults on the loan, the remaining women are held accountable. As structured, these loans have an extremely low rate of default and are much more successful with women than men.
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Bkat Nazera, 29, Kabul, Afghanistan
A quarter century of war has left fifty thousand war widows in Kabul alone. The vast majority of these women are illiterate, have few marketable skills, and live on just one dollar a day.
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Teke Foliwa, 42, Have, Ghana
In Have, girls typically marry before finishing school. It is common for men to abandon their wives, leaving them without any vocational skills or means of support.
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Transito, 91, Cayambe, Ecuador
Indentured servitude, poor working conditions, and insufficient pay discourage women from achieving economic independence. Tránsito Amaguaña is an inspirational leader whose activism triggered a movement for better working conditions in Ecuador.
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After Amena's husband left her, she worked for several years as a servant to support her two children. A friend told her about a four-year program that employs widowed and disadvantaged women for one dollar and twenty-five cents a day. Participants are guaranteed a job, as long as they save twenty percent of their income and participate in extensive health, literacy, human rights, and business management classes. After completing the program, Amena used the 180 dollars she saved to purchase a cow. Three months later, she sold it for 240 dollars, and eventually built her herd to six cows. Today, she owns a home, a bull, and six cows, and farms twenty-five acres of rice. In the past, women like Amena have rarely had the opportunity to rise from servant status to own their homes.
Amena currently rents land, which allows her to grow 2,800 kilograms of rice each year. Her ultimate goal is to purchase the land and double her herd of cows within three years. Even though Amena is illiterate and can only sign her name, she has become a very successful business woman.
Juana organized the first microcredit loan program for women in her hometown of Ixtahuacan after participating in a similar CARE program in a neighboring village. With her first loan of forty-five dollars, she was able to purchase fifty chickens and sell them a few weeks later at a forty percent profit. She now purchases one thousand chickens at a time and has earned enough to send four of her seven children to school.
Today, Juana is president of her twenty-five member group and spends her time teaching women how to earn and manage money. She hopes to expand the program to help more women in her village and in the surrounding rural areas.
As a young girl, Bkat loved to sew and design clothes, but never imagined she'd be able to own a clothing business. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, she joined a vocational training program for war widows and started her own sewing center, employing widows as seamstresses. Since the shop has no electricity, women operate sewing machines by hand and use propane stoves to heat the irons. Bkat's sewing center is a crucial social outlet for these women, as well as a lifeline for escapeing the cycle of poverty.
An Afghan wife is traditionally protected within the extended network of her husband's family, but the husband's death often leaves her unable to earn a living or support her children. Bkat dreams of growing her business so she can employ more widows and eventually open shops in other provinces and countries.
Recently, Teke was crowned "Queen Mother" of Have. Her first act was to form sixteen women's groups for microcredit loans, agriculture production, and education reform. Initially, there was concern within the community that she was gaining power too quickly. "Women are expected to be submissive to the men," she said. "Traditionally, a queen is just a figurehead; she dresses up for festivals and serves as a role model to teach women to be beautiful, quiet, and demure. After training, I realized that I could serve as a different kind of inspiration for the women here."
Eventually, the men became impressed with the progress being made by the women and asked for their own groups. "This has moved us forward toward becoming a true community," Teke said. "It's not just the men and the women, but all of us moving forward together in a much more uniform way."
Transito, a legendary human rights figure, is often referred to as the "Rosa Parks of Ecuador." After the Spanish conquest, many indigenous people were stripped of their rights and forced to serve as indentured servants in the hacienda system. In 1936, at the age of 17, Transito spoke out against a hacienda owner who had been molesting her. She was sent to jail for five months for protesting her abuse. Upon her release, she became a legend for speaking out about the plight of indigenous Ecuadorians. Later, she was instrumental in organizing a strike by indigenous farmers, which catalyzed a newfound respect for indigenous peoples in Ecuadorian politics and in society at large.