Scott Anderson

Weekly Roundup (3/9/13): Moving Closer to Financial Equality: Reflecting on International Women’s Day

“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand a man who’s cold?”

That line, from the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” always stuck with me. The book, by Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, tells the tale of a prisoner making his way through a typical and typically horrific day in a Soviet gulag. It also illustrates the limitations of sympathy. That in the end, our experience dictates our world view, much as we try to shape it through media and interaction with others.

It’s in that spirit that, as a man, I write with somewhat limited capacity when it comes to International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on Friday (March 8). Fortunately, over the last couple of days NextBillion has been a platform for women with some important, concrete ideas on increasing financial inclusion and bridging the gender gap. These women leaders are illuminating not only the barriers to financial inclusion for women, but the ways over, around or under them. These are clear-eyed and pragmatic approaches to bringing gender equity – or something closer to it – in the realms of health care, enterprise development and investment in women-led businesses.

Rebecca Fries, of Value For Women, told us the story of Esperanza from Guatemala. She went from being basically a subsistence bread maker to owning her own business. But she couldn’t do it without the help of her husband, who despite having the same basic financial profile, was able to secure a bank loan for the business while Esperanza was denied. An upcoming research study led by Value for Women, in partnership with the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Fundación Capital, and ING analyzes the underlying problems of underinvestment in women-led enterprise and makes suggestions turning around the nearly universal problem of under-investment in women-led enterprises.

Perzen Patel, the communications manager for Ennovent, chronicles several profitable social enterprises and other organizations that are working to bring low-cost sanitary napkins to women who are not only denied them, but are denied their place in society as a result. She writes that “girls in several developing countries miss up to 50 school days a year due to menstruation. And in rural India alone, a shocking 300 million girls and women are under what amounts to monthly house arrest.”

Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, and Irena Shiba, the Microfinance program officer for Citi Foundation, detail a pair of disturbing trends in microfinance in the last few years: “The number of women in leadership positions at microfinance institutions began to decline, and the percentage of women clients served by MFIs began to decrease as well.” The Citi Foundation and Women’s World Banking have joined together to increase the number of women leaders trained through Women in Leadership Program. They illustrate the value of the project with the example of Anne Nakawunde Mulindwa of Finance Trust, who moved through the ranks from mid-level manager to its CEO in just a few years.

Here are a few other articles and videos reflecting on achievement this International Women’s Day that I found interesting from elsewhere on the Web.

Is there a ‘Female Perspective’ on Social Finance by Suzanne Biegel in Pioneers Post.

Hope Kabirisi: Bridging the Gap for African Women in Business in Uganda on Business Fights Poverty

Check out TechnoServe’s new video to see how businesswomen like Harriet are supported through the Women Mean Business program, which we also covered here.

And finally, if you haven’t already taken in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the fantastic PBS documentary built off the book by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn that has exploded into a movement, here’s how to get involved in what is now reasonably described as a movement.

Read any one of these stories and you’ll come away with the clear impression that these are hard fought, hard won accomplishments against taboos, paternalism and sexism. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be set aside and trotted out each March 8. Our economic and social development depends on exponentially more of them.

Please share articles that moved and/or informed you in our comments section.

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