Women and MicrofinanceThe importance of women has been well-documented over time, despite historical disparities in their socioeconomic status. More often than not, women living in impoverished countries face numerous barriers to their financial independence. Although they have entrepreneurial visions for their future, the lack of funding forces their dreams to slowly fade away. In this same vein, at least 1 billion women in these nations do not have access to regular bank services. Perhaps it is time for a new marriage — women and microfinance.

However, the good news is that microfinance has helped countless underprivileged women pursue their aspirations of business ownership. Together, women and microfinance have the potential to destroy the old customs that have stifled women from entering the workforce.

What is Microfinance?

Microfinance is a lending service that provides small, manageable loans to unemployed or low-income people who would otherwise lack access to financial services. Microfinance has already transformed the lives of many women. With the help of organizations like the Pakistan-based Kashf foundation, which has supported impoverished female entrepreneurs since 1996, and FINCA, financial freedom has become an obtainable goal for many. One narrative from a former client, Shamsha Naveed, represents a common yet important testimony of the abuse numerous poor women suffer in Pakistan. Moreover, Naveed’s narrative highlights as well, the economic promise women now have.

Shamsha’s Story: The Power of Female Entrepreneurship

For years, Naveed’s husband sexually abused their daughter and tortured Shamsha mentally and physically. She eventually realized her only option was to leave her cruel marriage and move back in with her parents. Not wanting to be a financial liability to her mother and father, Naveed began stitching people’s clothes as a means to earn an income.

Since her stitching job required her to travel door-to-door, she often encountered insults that blamed her for her failed marriage and lack of fair payment for her work. Yet, despite this harassment and exploitation, Naveed persevered and eventually found her way to the Kashf Foundation where she enrolled in specialized career classes. Eventually, she obtained a loan. Naveed’s business is now flourishing, employing a staff of more than 20 workers which allows this female entrepreneur to successfully pay for her children’s education.

The Foundation of International Community Assistance (FINCA)

The Foundation of International Community Assistance (FINCA) is another top microfinance lending institution. FINCA has long championed the cause of female empowerment. Since the mid-1980s, more than 4 million women have benefited from the organization’s assistance. Additionally, in April 2018, the microcredit company opened a women-only branch in Afghanistan. Not only does the location provide specific lending services to women, but it also offers targeted financial literacy classes and financial products. The Afghanistan office has a staff consisting of more than 90 female employees, including female branch managers.

It simply makes financial sense for emerging nations to foster and harness the earning power of women. Women’s inclusion contributes to regions’ overall economic growth and stability. Furthermore, diversified workplaces promote heightened employee engagement and creativity. An employer whose business fosters gender equality will appeal to a wide range of talented individuals. This, in turn, demonstrates to potential employees that the company values contributions from all people.

Building Bridges to Prosperity

Lending institutions such as the Kashf Foundation and FINCA are well-aware that women are marginalized in developing countries. However, these organizations also understand that financial investment goes beyond money. The true value these female entrepreneurs bring is felt not just by their families, but also by their overall economies. As women and microfinance continue to build bridges that educate, inspire and cultivate confidence in female entrepreneurship — there is hope for transitioning many from poverty to prosperity.

– Kim Patterson
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