Dakar, 17th-28th JuneNumber of visits: 1547
The theme for the 2019 session of the gender institute focuses on the broad issues revolving around the implications that increased financialization of microcredit schemes has on women’s informal enterprises in Africa. While in the 1970s, informality was presented in the literature as a temporal phase from where enterprises would graduate to medium and large-scale enterprises, current policy and practice especially in developing countries promote informality as an end and an important process in development thinking. In the past, women informal enterprises operated largely outside the regulation of formal financial institutions, with individual group savings as the basis of associational and economic activity among women. Currently, different models of microfinance have emerged as a critical source both of start-up capital and capital for expansion of the enterprises, thus, thrusting informal economic activity to the center of formal financial markets. Informality is no-longer promoted as a transitory phase, but as a critical component in the process of individual and national economic growth. To tap into this enlarging informal economy, financialization of microcredit schemes has been accompanied by expansion of commercial bank branches to rural areas of the continent as part of a process of financial inclusion, growth of regional banks, rise in microcredit institutions and success of mobile payment systems. Women informal economic activities in Africa constitute a large impetus drawing this financial expansion. In some countries where political decisions have been made to introduce women enterprise loans, microcredit schemes have been brought into the picture to play intermediary roles of lending and recovering loans advanced to different groups of women. Data on the volume of lending and the number of groups benefiting does exist but not a qualitative examination of how financialized microfinancing is changing the internal dynamics of the informal groups. Two contrasting opinions exist in the literature. The first examines micro-credit schemes as important in terms of promoting self-sustainability, poverty alleviation, and feminist empowerment among informal women groups. The second is critical and calls for an examination of how access to microcredit resources translates into changes in the strategic choices that women are able to make at the level of the household and community, as well as at work; an examination of the terms on which women gain access to these resources and more generally the impacts of women’s greater access to microcredit financing on gender relations and norms.