Is there really a "glass ceiling" for women microfinance clients? Where MFIs serve female clients through group-lending methodologies, how much do we really know how these services meet their needs? After all, as their businesses grow and their lives changes, clients' needs for services also change. Many MFIs offer individual loans in addition to group loans - but are these really designed for clients that started out in group programmes? Kuhn-Fraioli notes that "most MFIs that offer both individual and group loans find that the percentage of women in their individual lending programmes is much lower than in group programmes. Further, few poor women in group programmes are graduating to individual programmes and larger loans, suggesting a need to look more closely at how MFIs can support women's business development."
For example, a study of the Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT) in Ghana revealed a number of barriers to graduation to individual loans. First, solidarity group clients cited insufficient capital and
lack of assets as the primary constraints to business growth. Second, small loan sizes didn't allow them to make lump sum investments - and SAT's rules even prohibited them from using their loans to buy needed business assets. These findings were supported by an earlier impact assessment, which showed that very few clients acquired assets during their time with SAT.
To address these problems, MFIs need to design services that protect and promote women's livelihoods in a way which builds their assets, knowledge and skills needed to grow their businesses, and provide appropriate support for their changing needs every step of the way. In doing so, MFIs need to understand how gender roles shape women's business opportunities and decisions, and ensure that the services and training provided opens up new opportunities for them.
Synthesised from: Kuhn-Fraioli, L.; "Chipping away at the glass ceiling: Identifying and overcoming obstacles to business expansion for women" Source: Soundbites - Imp-Act Consortium
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