Microfinance schemes and poverty reduction among women in the northern region of Ghana : A Study of an NGO and a Rural Bank
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In Ghana like in other developing countries, microfinance has been acknowledged as a pro-poor development intervention because of its special programme models in meeting the special needs of the poor especially women. The Ghanaian informal economic landscape is replete with MFIs, which are assumed to have varied orientations and outcomes for their clients. MFIs have long provided microfinance products and services with the expectation of improving the socio-economic and political wellbeing of the Ghanaian woman. This study explores the contributions of microfinance programmes to poverty reduction and empowerment among women. In addition, the study examines not only the challenges that confront MFIs in the implementation of their programmes but also the challenges that women face in the use of microfinance schemes provided by MFIs. Specific objectives were developed to facilitate the achievement of the aims of the study. Qualitative methodologies were used to collect the primary data from about 29 informants recruited from the MFIs. Three conceptual frameworks were used to examine the data (the informality-formality framework, the theory of empowerment and the household analysis framework). The study found that the MFIs give credits with conditions that are not favourable to the needs of women. It was also found that the dependency burdens on women coupled with the low credit that the women access from the MFIs for their productive activities lead the women to deploy the credits to meet the demands of both their businesses and households. As a result, the women are put under stress as they strive to meet their basic needs and to avoid defaults. The study also found that irrespective of the women's access to credits and incomes their bargaining power and fallback positions in household decision-making processes are largely defined by the gendered regimes within the household economy. I therefore argue that the MFIs have implicitly sought to help women to effectively carry out their gendered role within the separate spheres in the household. This is contrary to the expectations of feminist perspective on microfinance programmes that expects MFIs to provide the basis for the strengthening of individual agency or group solidarity in demanding social transformation through the provision of financial services and gender-based sensitization programmes. I therefore suggest that attempts to help women to reduce poverty and to empower themselves should go beyond making only financial products available to women. It should include mainstreaming educational programmes that will help women to mobilize individual agency and group solidarity to resist, challenge and ultimately transform institutional structures that may inhibit the promotion of gender equality.