February 28, 2022No Comments

Micro-financing African Projects: Women Empowerment and Success

Author: Rebecca Pedemonte

The role of microfinance (MFI) projects in African countries has grown fast in the last few decades. As attested by the World Economic Forum, in 2010 the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) defined the progress of African economies as “lions on the move”. There are two main reasons behind this exponential growth. First of all, the African continent has attracted investments from several multinational corporations, due to the increase of mobile and digital access, the closing of infrastructures gap, and mass industrialization. Secondly, a major reason why Africa experienced these overgrown is the recent influx of microfinance institutions as they granted affordable loans to farmers across the continent. The microfinance industry in Africa currently has a gross loan portfolio of $8.5 billion, attracting a consumer base of 8 million people. According to Microfinance Information Exchange (Mix) data, African countries have experienced one of the fastest-growing MFI bases. 

Providing up to 60 percent of all jobs on the continent, farming is the primary source of income for African people. Microfinance institutions have tailored their lending to this evidence producing an extremely beneficial impact for both the farmers and firms themselves. Thanks to facilitated loans, African farmers have the opportunity to invest in “profit-generating activities that improve their economic security and access the most important benefits of microfinance institutions in Africa”.  As a result of the success of various MFI projects, many activities drove the impressive growth rates on the African continent providing better food for families, improving access to clean water and sanitation, and enrolling children in school instead of work.

Nowadays, the African microfinance institutions’ gross loan portfolio continues to grow and “has witnessed an exponential growth of 1,312 percent between 2002 and 2014”. There have been excellent repayment rates from farmers. The consistent innovation from both sides, the MFI institutions and African farmers, and the commonly beneficial partnership between them has helped encourage growth in several African countries. Mali is a great example of such success can be found, where MFI  began to offer “an innovative loan product tailored to farmers’ seasonal cash flow. This generated an increase in investment on agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides”.  

Image Source: https://blog.iese.edu/iese-and-africa/2015/12/09/microfinance-3-0-opportunities-and-challenges/

Another reason why microfinance has grown so fast within African territory is its untraditional operating systems. In other words, microfinance initiatives are not based on physical financial intermediaries, such as banks. The motivation behind this choice is that microfinance was born to allow undeveloped countries to access financial cycles. In these countries, a lot of people usually live in rural areas, far away from the main cities and from economic centers, where banks are. So, microfinance institutions’ projects had to identify and develop different tools useful for the objective population. The spread of mobile phones had a crucial role in the success of MFI projects.  In particular, it has transformed the sector, extending it to previously unbanked areas in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, and elsewhere. Most famously, Kenya has seen the world's most rapid growth in the use of "mobile money." “Launched in 2007, the service known as M-Pesa by the end of 2010 had more than 13 million customers able to use their mobile phones to make payments and transfer money. Customers can now earn moderate interest on mobile bank accounts. Farmers can insure their crops against adverse weather conditions, with payouts made directly to their mobile accounts if weather conditions indicate crop failure”.

The role of women within African MFI

Women have a fundamental role in African MFI projects. The Report “Women Financial Inclusion in Africa“, written by Nomsa Daniels, affirms that “there is plenty of compelling evidence that women are a powerful driver of economic growth. We know that women make a significant economic contribution to African economies through their entrepreneurial activities and involvement in the labor market”. Several study cases provide evidences that women are better savers, plowing back most of their income into improving the well-being of their families. Nevertheless, to increase their financial power and their economic chances, “women need a level playing field with a sound educational foundation, more and better jobs, a business and legal climate that supports their economic pursuits”, but above all, “a financial sector that gives them access to affordable financial services tailored to their needs”. African women, especially the ones living within rural areas, have always been disadvantaged in access to credit and other financial services. Infact, the traditional banking system often focuses on men and formal investments, ruling out the women who are a fundamental pillar of the growing informal economy.

MFI projects allow women to empower their financial capabilities and values. It is proven that female clients, representing the eighty-five percent of the poorest microfinance clients reached, register higher repayment rates. “They also contribute larger portions of their income to household consumption than their male counterparts”. 

A rampant example of the efficiency of women within the MFI projects into African territory is the case of Cote d’Ivoire. Namizata Binaté FofanaGerrit AntonidesAnke Niehof & Johan A. C. van Ophem studied the effect of microcredit on women’s livelihood and empowerment in rural areas. They found out that “women’s decision-making power in the household, as indicated by their strategic gender needs, was positively related to the probability of obtaining microcredit. On the other hand, receiving microcredit tended to increase their decision-making power”.  

Conclusions

It would be incorrect to affirm that microfinance institutions and their correlated projects would be sufficient to increment African countries financial power and to fortify their economies. “It is unreasonable to expect microfinance to fundamentally transform African economies. And it cannot replace progressive social and economic policies for structural transformation, poverty reduction and job creation”. However, without solid cooperation between African governments and external development partners that provide relevant and proper policies and legal frameworks, microfinance institutions’ projects cannot be sustainable and resilient. The support and the cooperation between African governments then plays an essential role in light of the continent's persistent poverty, especially in the empowerment and emancipation of women workers. Microfinance “can play an essential part for the foreseeable future in providing basic financial services to the poor, and thereby help advance Africa's development goals”.  

January 4, 2022No Comments

UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security perpetuating patriarchal norms?

By: Diletta Cosco and Anna Toniolo.

The United Nations (UN) resolution 1325 was officially adopted in October of the 2000 by the UN security council. The resolution addresses several critical points in the context of post-war and peacebuilding process by recognizing an “urgent need to mainstream a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations”. The resolution highlights the importance of women as active agents of change in peacebuilding processes; the emphasis is put on the importance of their participation in every aspect of post-conflict period but also on their need to be protected along with the necessity to include women in field operations and give a “ gender component” to peacebuilding missions. In the resolution, women along children are portrayed as the most vulnerable categories in a conflict situation. Although, a special attention is given to the vulnerability of women and girls during conflict; speaking of which, the resolution manifests the urgency to give specialized trainings to peacekeeping personnel in order to address their protection and special needs and the necessity to gather further data on women and girls’ violence during conflict and post-conflict. 

United Nations Security Council resolution (UN SCR) 1325 represents a landmark document because it represents the first time that the UN identified women as “constructive agents of peace, security and post-conflict reconstruction”. Although this resolution is presented as a turning point in gender mainstreaming within the UN, we should not read this as a positive evolution of the lives of women and men in conflict zones. In fact, the language and the models used in resolution 1325 perpetuate patriarchal norms and weaken the UN’s ability to de-gender peace and security. In this sense it is worthy to underline that the stipulations of UN SCR 1325 are “women-centric”, inscribing gender mainstreaming operations on opposite tracks in which gender has been interpreted as woman, and woman remain differentiated from men weakening their agency and perpetrating the patriarchal pattern of hegemonic masculinity. The concept of “hegemonic masculinity” is associated with domination and power and this means that men are generally portrayed as the perpetrators of violence and the actors responsible for signing peace agreements, as they are seen as the most active participants in violence and conflict, thus denying women's ability to assert themselves and make decisions.

Furthermore, in UN SCR 1325 women are represented solely in gendered terms, excluding structural variables, inhibiting women acting as agents with truly transformative potential. In the vision of the French anthropologist Françoise Héritier, every time that sex is used as a sociological variable, it is accepted that women belong to a different category, putting them in a position of inferiority relative to a masculine norm of reference. In this regard, resolution 1325 perpetrates constructions of gender that assume it as a synonymous with biological sex, reproducing logics of identity that mark women as fragile and in need of protection. The conservancy of a stereotyped language in the document removes women’s agency and maintains them in the subordinated position of victims, defining women as civilians, vulnerable and in association with children. Associating women with children leads to an essentialist definition that categorize women as vulnerable and as mothers, resulting in the maintenance of a powerful assumption which sees women as one of the subjects who must be protected. Thus, it seems difficult to promote the participation of women in peace negotiations and in post conflict resolution, since they are considered primarily as caretakers and victims affected by war, with little possibilities to have a more dynamic role, subordinating them to male-dominated decision-making circles. In this sense, another important element to highlight is the emphasis on conflict-related sexual violence, which is treated like a plague only for women, with a systematic reluctance to confront the reality of that violence against men and boys, carrying out the patriarchal binary model of male-female gender power

Patriarchal norms are committed also by “re-sexing” of gender, in particular including women in peacekeeping missions which are highly masculinized in nature, appearing to be a case of “add women and stir” without really challenging the masculinist norms that dominate that type of missions. 

In the end, it can be said that even if resolution 1325 represents a shift toward a more inclusive global governance, it belongs to a discursive framework that is still dominated by state-centric, militaristic, and patriarchal practices.

July 5, 2021No Comments

A Comparative Perspective of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda: A Conversation with Cecilia Polizzi.

ITSS Verona's Extremism, Crime and Terrorism group interviews Cecilia Polizzi, President, Founder & Executive Director of the CRTG Working Group, the only existing I/NGO dedicated to protect children affected by terrorism and member of the ITSS Verona Scientific Expert Committee. Ms. Polizzi talks about the plight of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Interviewing Team: Adelaide Martelli & Francesco Bruno.

May 3, 20212 Comments

Interviewing Sara Falaknaz, Member Federal National Council, UAE

The ITSS team "Culture, Society and Security" interviews Sara Falaknaz, Member of Federal National Council in the United Arab Emirates, democratically elected in November 2019. Sara discusses her transition from small business, to the military and then into government, some of the challenges along the way, and the leadership capacity she has been able to develop throughout her learning journey. 

Interviewers: Leigh Dawson and Julia Hodgins.