Theme 1: The promotion of bottom-up rural microfinance institutions: a gender perspective

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The research assessed the impact on client level of microfinance services provided by three major MFIs operating in Maputo, Mozambique. This paper discusses its findings with regard to formal and informal savings practices, from a gender perspective. The findings are compared with experiences with savings led microfinance in rural areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Methods used to study this problem were: analysis of bank statements; in-depth interviews (using the QUIP methodology) with 20 depositors of 2 MFIs; gender audit and (impact) evaluations of Ophavela (ASCA promoter in rural areas in Mozambique); and literature study of SHDF (promoter of stamp based savings clubs in Zimbabwe.)

The urban impact study showed the importance of informal savings mechanism for women. Instead of focussing on building formal rural financial institutions serving, in many cases, predominantly the male rural population, alternative bottom-up approaches should be considered that respond to women’s needs and protect women’s interests. The paper compares the findings of the urban research with findings of studies of Ophavela, a NGO in Mozambique with a gender focus, promoting ASCAs and having obtained a considerable outreach in rural areas. Moreover, the experiences of the Self Help Development Foundation in Zimbabwe promoting women’s savings clubs are discussed.

Main conclusion drawn from this research is that in the urban areas, women saved more frequently and higher amounts in ROSCA groups than in their bank accounts. Some women were found to save up to a third of their income with the ROSCAs. The fact that forced savings remain beyond the control of family members and friends is likely to be one of the underlying reasons for the popularity of ROSCAs among women. The ASCAs and savings clubs in rural areas obtained a considerable outreach in rural areas where MFIs cannot exist and are also very popular among women.

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