Giving Compass' Take:

• Sara Niner explores the shortcomings of microfinance programs that aim to empower women but fail to overturn cultural norms and create more work and friction for women. 

• How can microfinance be used effectively as a piece of a large female empowerment plan? What are the varying cultural norms that need to shift to allow women true equality? 

• Learn how policy shifts can reduce inequalities in care work

Giving small loans to people for small household purchases or to invest in businesses has been an integral part of Australian, American and other aid programs for decades. This is called “microfinance”, and the aim is not only to alleviate poverty but also to empower women.

But simply improving a woman’s economic situation does not necessarily result in greater equality. Increasing women’s economic engagement often increases their work burden on top of all the unpaid labor they do. It can also challenge established gender roles and power hierarchies, causing conflict in the home and even domestic violence.

Empowering women needs to be about more than economics and requires changing the power dynamics and other cultural factors that repress women. So that they can make decisions about their life and mobility, control their money and have access to information, transport, tools, and land.

If development programs don’t challenge the structural causes of gender inequality, at best, microfinance will just continue to reinforce poverty and inequality.

Read the full article about microfinance by Sara Niner at The Conversation.