Microfinance sector being gender biased?
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Women represent 59 percent of the total microfinance borrowers in Pakistan, says a World Bank report titled “Are Pakistani women being served by the Microfinance Sector”. This share is seemingly an impressive proportion for a male dominated society like Pakistan.
Now take a step back and look beyond the numbers. Around 50-70 percent of the micro-loans drawn by women are passed on to male members of their family. Typically these males have either defaulted on earlier loans in their own names or cannot access the facility because of gender conditions attached to microfinance programmes.
By comparison, both Bangladesh and India boast more than 90 percent women representation in lending by their respective microfinance sectors. But the limited access to funds for women entrepreneurs in Pakistan leaves them few options besides borrowing from informal lenders, family members or digging into personal savings.
Cultural norms are not the only hurdle; structural inefficiencies in the microfinance model prevalent in the country are also at odds with the needs of women borrowers. It has been found out that group loans (average group loan size: Rs 30,000) are insufficient to finance working capital needs of females running sole proprietorships. Although many of these borrowers access multiple sources for borrowings their transactions costs spike.
Scarce individual loan facilities directed to women often rule out accessibility for unmarried women, classifying them as “high-risk” borrowers. Besides, requirements such as arranging for unrelated male guarantors are impractical for many women due to their lack of mobility and social barricades. Besides unavailability of small individual loans, there are barely any larger loans for female entrepreneurs because of the low perceived scalability of their businesses.