Self-employment, supported by microcredit and microenterprise development, has become especially important to women. Four out of five members of microcredit programs worldwide, and three out of four members of microenterprise development programs in the United States, are women.
As both hours of TO OUR CREDIT illustrate, the reasons are many:

    Women are much more likely to be poor. The United   Nations Development Programme reports that, of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who live in extreme poverty, 70 percent are women. Women earn only ten percent of the world's income and own less than ten percent of the world's property.

    According to the United States Census Bureau data, nearly half of all female-headed households in America lived in poverty for at least two months in 1994, more than three times the poverty rate of married couples. During the period from 1994 to 1996, single mothers were eight times as likely as married couples to live in poverty for a two-year period.

    They often live in repressive circumstances. In Bangladesh, women like Mursheda Begum live under the shadow of purdah, confined to their courtyards. Her husband was able to divorce her and abandon her and the children simply by pronouncing it so.

    They often bear the brunt of overall economic hardship. In South Africa, men must often move to cities in search of work, leaving women and children behind. Kate Makaku started selling snacks to school children because the money her husband sent home from Johannesburg was not enough to feed the family.

    If employed, they are more likely to lose their jobs than men. When the textile industry in Ahmedabad, India, collapsed, many more women than men were thrown out of work, including Ramila Parmar.

    It often takes two incomes to support a family. In India, Moti Parmar and her husband work together to make ends meet. Brenda Kearney's drycleaning business in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is complemented by her husband's earnings at a nearby prison.

    Caregiving responsibilities often mean that women must find ways to earn an income close to home. Roselyn Spotted Eagle in Kyle, South Dakota cares for her daughter and handicapped grandson by working at home, creating beadwork and quilts. Cheryl Taylor, in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, created a space within her store where her children can play and do their homework.

    It has become clear to microlenders worldwide that, overall, women need self-employment and microcredit more than men. In Bangladesh, over two million women are now members of Grameen Bank. The Self-Employed Women's Association, or SEWA, now serves 150,000 women.

In the United States, women-owned businescuhandsses are the fastest growing business segment. The National Foundation for Women Business Owners reports that a new woman-owned business opens every 11 seconds. There are an estimated 3.5 million woman-owned, home-based businesses providing full-or-part-time employment to 14 million people.

It has been the universal experience of microlenders that women pay back the loans much more consistently than do men -- perhaps because they value the opportunity more greatly than men. In Bangladesh, the difference was so great that Grameen Bank decided to loan to women only. And, studies have documented that profits from women-owned microenterprises, compared to those owned by men, are much more likely to benefit the children.

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