Empowering low-income women is at the heart of Oikocredit’s mission [interview]
To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we asked Marilou Pantua-Juanito, Oikocredit’s Capacity Building & Social Performance Coordinator in Southeast Asia, about working with Oikocredit for women’s empowerment.
What motivates you to work with Oikocredit?
Oikocredit’s mission of empowering people through responsible investment is one I strongly believe in. By providing financial services and supporting organisations that help low-income people and communities improve their quality of life, Oikocredit puts into action one of the most effective and sustainable ways of assisting people in need. We really make a difference when we give opportunities to people to help themselves through financing and capacity building.
For me, Oikocredit’s ‘people’ values – the way we work with partner organisations to give financial opportunities to economically disadvantaged people irrespective of nationality, faith, culture, age or gender – are enormously important. Most of all I value the impact of our work on our partners and their clients.
As a woman, how do you feel about working with Oikocredit?
Oikocredit’s people are courteous, professional and pleasant. I don’t feel any gender bias in the workplace, only mutual respect. Oikocredit is an equal opportunity employer. I also appreciate that we have flexibility in working hours and sufficient leave days to take a break. This is important to me as a working mother and helps me balance my roles and responsibilities at home, at work and in the community, and allows some ‘me time’.
I also like the fact that Oikocredit’s partners give equal respectful treatment to women and men. I feel comfortable in the field with partners and clients, conducting trainings and capacity building. I welcome the influencing role I can play in challenging restrictive gender roles that disadvantage women.
How do you see Oikocredit’s work contributing to female empowerment?
Oikocredit actively contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals including SDG 5 (‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’) through responsible investment and capacity building with partners and clients. We promote women’s economic empowerment, which is essential to realise women’s rights and to achieve broader development goals such as poverty reduction, food security and improvements in health, education, well-being and the natural environment.
By investing and working with carefully selected partners, Oikocredit provides equality of opportunity for low-income women to access affordable quality financial and non-financial services. Financial inclusion helps women develop their full potential to become more independent, self-confident and better able to make decisions and be effective managers and community leaders. With more self-esteem, women can break free from traditional gendered roles.
Oikocredit’s annual social performance monitoring shows how we help narrow the gender gap in financial inclusion. Based on gender-disaggregated data from partners on their service provision, Oikocredit’s 2021 Impact Report noted that 87% of our financial services partners’ clients were women, while 44% of financial services partners and 70% of agriculture partners have gender equality as an objective. Our due diligence assessment of potential partners applies gender-relevant indicators, such as a non-discrimination policy, women’s empowerment in the workplace and female representation at management and board levels.
How important is female empowerment in your work with partners? Could you share an inspiring example of how Oikocredit’s work supports women?
Because most of Oikocredit’s financial inclusion partners’ clients are women, my role has a strong emphasis on supporting capacity building for female economic and social empowerment. The take-off point for gender-focused capacity building is contextual depending on the women clients’ priorities. And it links to the range of services that partners offer, which can extend from financial support for women’s livelihood activities to secondary loans for water and sanitation, education or household emergencies, and non-financial services like client skills upgrading and training.
Our capacity building support enhances partners’ policies, practices, knowledge, skills, technology and access to markets while strengthening their organisational governance and management. For women’s empowerment we provide targeted assistance in areas such as gender mainstreaming, female participation in the value chain, and women’s financial literacy and business development.
Many of our partners have achieved a great deal for women. As an example, I can mention Koperasi Mitra Dhuafa (Komida) in Indonesia. Komida is a savings and loan cooperative for low-income women with close to 800,000 members. This partner analyses its clients’ data to track improvements in their lives and to offer innovative solutions customised to their needs. On a visit to a Komida branch outside Jakarta, I interviewed a woman member who had started a micro-enterprise producing fish and shrimp crackers with a small unsecured loan from the cooperative. After that, her household income had increased, her relationship with her husband improved, she had been able to send her children to school and to improve her home, and she had expanded her business, giving employment to neighbouring women.
How do you see the future?
Financial exclusion still affects many low-income people, especially women. We can and should do more to support disadvantaged women, for whom Covid-19 has been especially hard. Digital tools for financial inclusion are increasingly used by many financial service providers. We need to make digital technology more accessible for women and help service providers enable women to access and use innovative technologies, through designing approaches that fit women’s realities, facilitating ownership of mobile phones and access to connectivity, providing digital financial literacy and skills training to engage with technology, making financial advisory services available, and ensuring client protection to reduce risks from digital finance.
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