Olive highlights several key developments that illustrate the loan program's success in bringing about fundamental social and economic changes that reduce poverty:
1. Women are buying land and building permanent houses;
2. Women are opening bank accounts and using ATM cards;
3. Domestic violence has reduced;
4. WMI trainers cover East Africa to pass on business skills to rural women;
5. Loan hubs are thriving in areas recovering from insurgency fighting;
Land and Homes. Many women live in semi-permanent homes when they enter the WMI loan program. The roofs are made of thatched grass and the floors are dirt. In the dry season, the houses are dusty and in the rainy season they are wet and damp. Accumulating the funds to build a permanent home is a major triumph for the women in the loan program.
Very few women, if any, own land when they enter the WMI loan program. It is not just the expense that prevents women from purchasing property. As a cultural norm, land is traditionally owned by men. Actionaid's 2010 study found only 7% of productive land in Uganda is owned by women. In WMI's 2012 longitudinal study of the pioneer borrowers in the loan program, we found that nearly 60% of the women had purchased land. This is a testament to the power of village-level microfinance to reform long-standing traditions that have cut off rural women from economic empowerment.
Bank Services. As borrowers progress through the WMI village loan program 2 year cycle to graduate to a bank loan, they learn how to deal with a regulated financial institution. Upon graduation from their transition bank loans, 84% of borrowers are actively using savings accounts and 67% are
WMI borrowers receive loans at Postbank
regularly using ATM cards. Savings are also critical and 80% have increased their regular saving habit.
Access to institutional financial service is critical for rural women and their families to achieve long-lasting economic gains. As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's ESA Working Paper No. 11-207 (2011) found:
Policy-makers have long understood that rural producers who cannot meet their needs for capital must settle for suboptimal production strategies. When producers are unable to make the necessary upfront investments or cannot bear additional risk, they have to forgo opportunities to boost their productivity, enhance their income and improve their well-being (Besley, 1995; Boucher et al., 2008, and; World Bank 2008a).
Despite this widely accepted notion, rural financial programs have been largely designed, crafted and implemented with the male head of household as the intended client... Even though millions of women throughout the world contribute to national agricultural output and family food security, detailed studies from Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa consistently indicate that rural women are more likely to be credit constrained than men of equivalent socio-economic conditions (Fletschner, 2009 and Diagne et al., 2000).
Well-designed products that enable women to adequately save, borrow and insure against unexpected shocks are therefore essential in any efforts to strengthen women's role as producers and expand the set of economic activities they can undertake, the scale at which they can operate and their ability to benefit from economic opportunities.
Reduction in Domestic Violence. One of the advantages of the WMI loan program being imbedded in rural villages is the ability to witness changes in local attitudes. Rural, under-educated, and economically disadvantaged women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. The international organization, Violence is Not our Culture (VNC) reports:
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2006, more than two thirds of Ugandan women experience violence from their partners. Rural women suffered more violence than urban women. Likewise, uneducated women suffered more than their educated colleagues.
Women in Uganda generally accept violence as part of male-female relationships, which is not surprising because traditional norms teach women to accept, tolerate and even rationalize battery. Acceptance of wife beating is generally lower among women in urban areas, those residing in Kampala, those in highest wealth bracket, women with higher or secondary education and women who are employed. On the other hand, women in rural areas, those living in eastern and West Nile regions, less educated and the employed but with no cash payment, are more likely to agree to being beaten.
Why it persists: Dr. Lydia Mungherera, the founder of Mama's Club, says "as long as women are poor and uneducated, it will be hard for them to resist domestic violence." Most women are dependent on the spouse for economic well being. Having children to take care of, should she leave the marriage, it will increase the financial burden and make it difficult for her to resort to divorce. Dependency means that women have fewer options and few resources to help them.
Sylvia Akello, leader Atiak loan hub, with her husband and baby
WMI's loan program helps change this paradigm by upsetting the economic gender inequality that can lead to domestic violence. It creates an environment where spouses can work side-by-side at a small business to make it a financial success for the benefit of the entire family. And, that is typically what we see in WMI businesses - husbands and wives combining their efforts to produce maximum household productivity.
Peer to Peer Skills Training. WMI's local staff is proud to be on the cutting edge of peer-to-peer knowledge transfer protocols. The WMI trainers from Buyobo, Uganda travel as far as central Kenya, southwest Uganda, and Tanzania to bring business skills to rural women. Sometimes this journey can take 2 days and is punctuated by bus breakdowns, torrential downpours, and walking barefoot down muddy roads for several miles because there is simply no other way to cover the last leg into a remote village. The training by women who have themselves graduated from the WMI loan program and are running successful businesses is priceless. Their ability to relate to the anxiety, concerns and dreams of new borrows is unmatched. They have taken standard business training materials and embellished them in so many creative ways to make them relevant to the everyday life of a rural village woman. Through song, dance, and drama the trainers are able to achieve dramatic results in inculcating new borrows in book keeping, marketing and managing a small business.
Bullet-ridden building in Atiak
Loan Hubs in War-torn Regions. Over a million people were displaced in northern Uganda during the bitter fighting that marked a 20-year insurgency led by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Tens of thousands of children were abducted, land was seized and entire villages destroyed. Although Kony and the LRA were driven from Uganda in 2006, the north has been very slow to recover.
A Gulu IDP camp populated by homeless villagers
Local populations were relocated into governement camps (internally displaced persons camps known as IDPs). Although the camps were officially closed in 2011, many still house families that have settled there because they have nowhere else to go. In April 2012, WMI opened another loan hub even further north in Atiak, the site of the largest massacre of civilians by LRA troops.
As Olive points out, the ladies in the north are different. They have suffered enormous hardships and now seem extremely determined to rebuild their lives. They are very hard-working, resourceful and clever at taking advantage of the booming trade with South Sudan. The road through Gulu and Atiak is a direct pipeline into South Sudan, a nascent country with pent-up consumer demand for all manner of products. WMI is proud to play a small role in rebuilding the lives of rural women in this war-torn area.
WMI borrowers in the Gulu and Atiak loan hubs