It’s been a little more than a week since I arrived in Tarapoto, a burgeoning city in the Amazon Basin of Peru. I came to my placement with Manuela Ramos/CrediMUJER with an open mind but with a burning question: is there really a link between microfinance and women’s empowerment?
Manuela Ramos/CrediMUJER is an MFI that works exclusively with women borrowers in Peru. Besides offering loans to women, Manuela aims to provide other services with a gender perspective such as legal aid for women victims of domestic violence and education about sexual and reproductive health. In my first few days going over borrower stories and records I was encouraged by a relatively simple thing; the names that the women chose for their community bank. Names such as Mujeres Luchadoras (Fighter Women), Esperanza al Futuro (Hope for the Future), Mujeres Creativas (Creative Women), made me think that when forming their community banks, these women seem to feel that they can hope for something better for themselves and their families. In short, they seem to feel empowered.
As I have learned more in this short time, I have seen that behind that collective consciousness, the individual stories that emerge offer a sobering dose of reality. A case on point is that of a woman I will call “Rose.” Rose received a small loan and had been repaying in a timely manner until recently. When her loan officer asked why she was falling behind, Rose said that her husband had cheated on her with a minor and that the girl is now pregnant. Furthermore, the husband brought the girl to live with them in the same house. Now, Rose is paying for the additional expenses, including the girl’s medical care. Looking at this story, I find myself asking, why does Rose stay with this man? Why is she paying for this?
Then there are women like Norma. When her husband left her, Norma moved forward and managed to open a small grocery store in her neighborhood. With the loans she receives from Manuela Ramos/CrediMUJER and Kiva, she has been able to keep her business running and support her daughter who is an excellent student now going to college. When I asked her if the loans that she received have helped her improve, one of the first things she said was that the loans allowed her to not be dependent on any man.
Looking at these cases more questions than answers spring up. Although it is too soon and I know too little to come up with well-reasoned conclusions, one thing does seem true; the roots of gender inequality run deep and micro finance is only one weapon in the arsenal to combat it.
Hi, my name is Diana Rodriguez Wong and I have just started my fellowship with Kiva in Tarapoto, Peru. To support women entrepreneurs please visit the Manuela Ramos/CrediMUJER loan page or join the new Manuela Ramos lending team.