Empowerment means to have agency over one’s life and equal opportunity to participate in society. Women’s empowerment, or female empowerment, is the process by which women gain influence and equal opportunity to pursue personal, social and economic endeavors, engaging in all parts of society on the same basis as men.
One factor that greatly limits women’s empowerment is poverty. In general, the poorer a person is the less access they have to jobs, resources, political participation and much more. Around the world, poverty disproportionately affects young women and girls. Helping women and girls move out of poverty is an incredibly effective way to empower them.
In addition, in many low-income countries, discriminatory laws and intertwined social practices can limit a woman’s rights. She may not be able to own property, open a bank account, receive education, start a business and more. Anything that forces society to reexamine these laws and norms can also empower women.
Worldwide, women constitute the majority of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults. Despite having multiple roles in society—as consumers, employees, business owners, mothers and caretakers—there is great income inequality between men and women. A woman’s chances of receiving credit are lower than it is for a man. Yet, in an increasing number of families, the woman provides much or all of the family’s income. Therefore, one way of how to empower women is to increase their access to essential financial services.
Another way to empower women is by increasing their access to life-changing goods. Many people living in poverty lack access to basic services that we take for granted in high-income economies. These products and services include access to reliable electricity, quality education, accessible health care and much more. Lack of access to these basic services often goes hand-in-hand with financial exclusion. Without a savings account or the ability to receive a loan, many cannot afford the up-front costs of energy, school fees, medical bills, etc.
At FINCA, we recognize the importance of women empowerment in our mission to alleviate poverty. We understand that when women have access to financial services and life-enhancing goods, the benefits not only flow to the women who receive them but also to their families and communities. When women are empowered to fully participate in society, to work and to create their own businesses—through access to finance, education and jobs—families improve their quality of life.
It has been proven time after time that increasing the incomes of poor mothers results in an almost immediate improvement in their children’s diet, and an increased likelihood that they can send their children to school. And when a child is educated, he or she has better opportunities to live outside of poverty.
The empowerment of women is one of FINCA’s core commitments and is part of our vision for the future. We are dedicated to providing financial services and life-enhancing goods to women in underserved markets globally. We specifically develop products and programs tailored to the needs of women where they are.
In tandem with developing products for women, FINCA is dedicated to measuring progress in reaching women with these life-changing services. This is exemplified by an International Finance Corporation (IFC) study showing that FINCA’s female banking agents in the Democratic Republic of Congo made more profit on average than those run by men. This data-driven research qualifies the impact FINCA is making. It also helps our global staff to cater our services to reach even more women.
Following a long tradition of believing in women as strong business leaders, FINCA’s global microfinance network launched an initiative to raise the profile of women and promote diversity and inclusion. FINCA works with its global staff to identify leadership opportunities in countries where women aren’t traditionally empowered, such as Pakistan, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2016, Andrée Simon was promoted to President and CEO of FINCA’s global microfinance operations. This added another woman to the growing group of female CEOs around the world.
FINCA also knows that social enterprise is one of the most effective, sustainable ways to get life-changing products and services into the hands of those who need them most. Through FINCA Ventures, we partner with innovative social entrepreneurs whose businesses improve the productivity and resiliency of poor and low-income families. The majority of FINCA Ventures’ partner companies are co-founded by women.