Because of cultural and traditional discrimination, women and other vulnerable groups are often excluded from development opportunities. World Neighbors works in deprived rural communities and although the situation is dire for almost everyone within these communities, it is especially grave for certain groups of people, including women.
World Neighbors helps communities change social patterns. Before World Neighbors enters a community, women typically have poor prospects in nearly all aspects of civil, economic, political and social life. They have a much heavier workload than men, yet they have little to no access to money or other resources. Often, they have no right to own the property they live on, even if their husbands die. In many places, women are not even permitted to be alone outside of the family compound. Most women have not gone to school and are illiterate. They have very little input into household decisions and do not have a voice in the community organization. Their health, particularly in regard to childbearing, suffers from neglect. And in some places girls are subjected to the painful and damaging practice of female genital mutilation.
Women are regarded as property in many countries. When a man’s family pays a dowry to the woman’s family, the woman commonly is treated as an indentured servant to repay the dowry. In places where the dowry is paid to the man’s family, the woman’s family may be extorted if the husband’s family later decides that his hand in marriage is worth more than the original dowry that was given. If the increased dowry is not paid, the woman may face the risk of violence or death. Changing these destructive social patterns is critical, and it requires both men and women to be involved.
WORLD NEIGHBORS’ APPROACH TO IMPROVING GENDER EQUITY IN COMMUNITIES INITIALLY FOCUSES ON CREATING SPACES FOR WOMEN TO BE HEARD BY:
1. Helping communities to understand the practical benefits that would result from women’s equitable participation in family and community decision-making; and,
2. Conducting activities targeted at advancing the skills and confidence of women to a level at which they are able to effectively participate in family and community discussions, decision-making and leadership.
Savings and Credit Groups
When a woman has a stake in household income generation, she helps make better decisions for family finances, as well as decisions which can lead to improvements in the nutrition and education of their children.
Savings and credit groups help women start household businesses, learn important income generation skills and create economic change that ultimately impacts entire communities. World Neighbors empowers women to start savings and credit groups that give low-interest loans to help a woman start her own business or purchase tools or livestock to meet family needs.
With World Neighbors’ guidance and education, a community makes the decision to begin a savings and credit group, and an initial group of community leaders – often women – invest the seed money to start a savings and credit group. They contribute a minimum amount of money to a joint account to increase the capacity of the group to offer loans to its members. Once the account is large enough, group members apply for the loans they need to jumpstart their businesses or help grow their family’s farms.
By the time World Neighbors leaves a community, the women we first met are unrecognizable. These women, now literate, share household decision-making power with their husbands. By imparting their perspectives, they improve their families’ educations and economic situations. They have the skills to generate income through a small business or a trade and are free to go to the market and beyond. The money the women earn has increased their status in their homes and communities. It has also given them the power to demand health care, including contraceptives.
Now these women organize themselves and their communities to advocate for rights and for the enforcement of laws that protect them from abuse and injustice.