‘I’m not frightened anymore’: supporting women’s empowerment

‘I’m not frightened anymore’: supporting women’s empowerment

Nina Alff.JPG

Christina (Nina) Alff

16 March 2021

In honour of International Women’s Day, we had Christina (Nina) Alff, from Oikocredit Support Association Baden-Württemberg, share her thoughts on “women’s empowerment” in this blog. Nina spends a lot of her time and expertise raising awareness on gender equality and shares about how this topic relates to Oikocredit’s work.

Empowerment is such a broad term and not always easy to grasp. When we talk about women’s empowerment, we should clearly define what we mean by that. One of the best definitions, in my opinion, was given by Naila Kabeer, a well-known academic and development expert from Bangladesh. She stresses that women’s empowerment is about the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such ability.” Or, in simple words: empowerment includes a process of change.

What are strategic life choices?

Can you imagine not having the choice of whom you want to live with and where? Or not being able to decide on whether or not you want to have kids? Or not being allowed to open a business even though you are more than capable? In privileged countries of the global North the majority of girls and women can make strategic life choices; however, in many countries girls and women are still denied those human rights. UNICEF estimates that twelve million girls enter into child marriages every year. The majority of these girls must marry a man they don’t even know because their parents have made the decision for them.

When we talk about choice, it implies that women have several options and are able to make their own decisions. The ability to exercise strategic life choices requires three interlinked dimensions:

  1. the access to resources in terms of material resources (e.g. finances, land, and machines), human resources (e.g. education, training and information) and social resources (e.g. networks, credit groups, and cooperatives)
  2. agency,in terms of decision-making power on how to use resources, negotiation power in families, communities and the society
  3. and achievements, in the sense of benefiting from the outcomes of the activities undertaken.

Empowerment of marginalised groups

Empowering marginalised groups and individuals is a process which focuses on challenging power relations to achieve more equality. And if the empowerment of one group or individual is supported, some might think that you are automatically disempowering other groups or individuals. But does empowering others really mean that others will be disadvantaged or lose power? Not always. For instance, when women contribute their own income to the household, men also benefit. When women have decision-making power in companies, this usually increases the efficiency of processes.

On the other hand, if land reforms are implemented in favour of landless day labourers, large landowners may lose power, influence and probably profits.

When we talk about women’s empowermentwe should carefully differentiate on the multiple and often interconnected dimensions of empowerment. Are we talking about personal, economic, political, social or legal empowerment?

How does Oikocredit support women’s empowerment?

Oikocredit supports primarily women’s economic empowerment through providing access to fair loans and through capacity building. Many of Oikocredit’s partner organisations contribute to the personal empowerment of women by offering various trainings in negotiation and marketing skills, or by sharing about human rights issues.

“I am not frightened anymore”

I will never forget the story of a successful tailor and client of a previous Oikocredit partner organisation, who I met in Lima, Peru. She started her tailoring business by investing loans in modern sewing machines, which steadily grew her customer base. As a result, she was able to buy a house  and enable her daughters to attend university. What really impressed me, however, was her story about a workshop held by Oikocredit’s partner (at the time) on the topic of human and women's rights. This was the first time in her entire life that she heard about Peru’s law against gender-based violence. "Our men sometimes drink too much and then they insult us or even get physical. That is not okay. We have learned to say no when men become violent,” she said. She also proudly and with great self-confidence said that she is “no longer afraid” and asserts her concerns in her family. She has become an activist for women’s rights!

This is individual empowerment in the most effective form because by standing up in her household, she is educating her daughters and sons accordingly. She is also likely to share this with her friends, encouraging others in her community to stand up against injustice.

Financial inclusion can be the first step

Being financially self-reliant is an important step towards empowerment, in which Oikocredit's partners play a major role. In addition, when workshops on women's rights, legislation and leadership skill are held, women will gain knowledge, skills and confidence to reflect upon potential strategic life choices.

About Christina Alff:

Dr. Christina Alff, has been working at the Oikocredit Support Association Baden-Württemberg since 2013. She is responsible for Global Education and Learning for members and investors. She gives lectures, conducts workshops and participates in panel debates on sustainable finance, ethical investments, and development issues such as fair trade and gender equality. The rest of her working time is dedicated to gender consultancies and gender trainings for international development agencies.

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