How low-income women are creating change in Honduras
Lourdes Valeriano, General Manager of Microfinanciera Prisma de Honduras (Prisma)
About 57% of Prisma Honduras’ women clients say their business is the main source of household income. General Manager Lourdes Valeriano explains how the MFI is promoting gender equality in Central America.
Oikocredit envisions a just society where all people are empowered with the choices they need to create lives of dignity. Gender equality is integral to that goal.
Through our partners, we work to ensure that women around the world have access to the resources they need.
Since 2016, one of our partners has been Microfinanciera Prisma de Honduras (Prisma), a medium-sized microfinance institution (MFI) headquartered in the capital, Tegucigalpa, with operations across seven regions in the Central American country. The MFI operates principally in rural communities, offering agriculture, business and service microloans, and solar energy solutions.
Like Oikocredit, Prisma supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. It supports women in Honduras on the path to financial independence, but also incorporates gender objectives into its own operations and policies.
On International Women’s Day 2023, we caught up with Prisma General Manager Lourdes Valeriano, to find out more about the institution and the overall situation for women in Honduras. Born in Tegucigalpa, Lourdes has a degree in economics and finance. Over her career, she has accumulated extensive experience in the financial sector through her work in banking cooperatives and microfinance.
In addition to her work at Prisma, Lourdes is also President of the Microfinance Network of Honduras (RedMicroh), President of the Society for the Inclusion of Microenterprise in Central America and the Caribbean (SICSA), and a member of the board of directors of the Central American and Caribbean Microfinance Network (Redcamif).
This interview has been translated from Spanish.
What’s the environment like for women entrepreneurs and female leaders in Honduras? What challenges must women in Honduras overcome?
It pains me to say that women in Honduras face many limitations that aren’t easy to overcome. I know that’s largely because we are part of a male-dominated society and culture. Women operate in a context of inequality and poverty and there are high rates of informal labour and violence. However, women have gradually been able to empower themselves through education and professional development.
The most important challenges for women in Honduras are achieving equality of opportunity, advances in training and professional development, freedom to make their own decisions, and empowerment to direct their own destiny and achieve financial independence. We must create the conditions to guarantee these equal opportunities in our country, and to include and promote women in business, politics, leadership and decision-making positions.
What’s working in favour of women in Honduras?
The positive aspect is that Honduran women have the potential and talent to excel and inspire others to achieve their dreams of personal, professional and economic fulfilment. They now need to be able to take those talents into the political, social and business fields, to lead and contribute to the country’s economic development and help create a fairer and more inclusive society.
What are the biggest obstacles to gender equality in Honduras currently? What changes are you seeing?
Among the biggest obstacles to gender equality in Honduras are the lack of adequate conditions for women's business development; insufficient education and development; and the cultural issue of machismo, violence and subjugation.
Poor and very poor women microentrepreneurs do not have any type of guarantees and have the least access to formal credit. They therefore often turn to loan sharks, where their only collateral is their own life. Such illegal lenders have proliferated in our country in recent years.
At the same time, women are increasingly becoming the main breadwinners in low-income Honduran households. If women's income was previously considered as complementary, today there is evidence that the weight of their contribution to families is greater than ever. Women represent 43% of the informal sector according to the International Labour Organisation and 57% of the women we serve say their business provides the main source of household income. This is because nearly 40% are heads of their households and the main breadwinners in their homes.
How does Prisma support SDG 5 on gender equality?
Prisma de Honduras offers women opportunities and access to finance to develop their economic potential and achieve financial independence. Currently, 46.3% of our clients are women and they represent 34.5% of our portfolio. In addition, Prisma has incorporated a gender focus in its Human Resources policies and has developed credit products with specific aspects aimed at women.
How does Oikocredit support Prisma in contributing to gender impact?
Oikocredit supports Prisma de Honduras with financial resources that help finance initiatives and productive activities led by women, leading to an economic and social impact that also helps improve their quality of life.
Tell us about your work with women’s communities.
Prisma de Honduras works with individual women and women’s solidarity groups in rural and peri-urban communities with high concentrations of poverty and limited availability of financial services. We aim to give them access to resources and working capital to develop in productive activities that have an economic and social impact.
On International Women’s Day this year, the UN highlighted how digital technology can support gender equality. How does Prisma use technology to bridge the gender gap?
Prisma de Honduras uses technological tools to improve financial inclusion among women. We see digital tools as a valuable tool to train women entrepreneurs alongside traditional channels such as specialist training and development organisations.
Technology helps us expand our reach, bring financial services to unbanked communities and deliver financial education and training. While it helps us reduce transaction costs for our clients, we are careful not to lose the human touch.
As a woman leader, how do you support and influence other women?
I try to motivate other women and lead by example. My aim is to convey to them that there are no limits to what we can achieve when we believe in ourselves and transform our way of thinking. Through my work, I can support thousands of Honduran women in empowering themselves to achieve economic and social independence, to have a better quality of life and ensure food security for their families.
A positive message you’d like to end on?
I believe women are truly empowered when they feel capable and confident to build their own destiny, when they have the authority and security to make decisions that enable them to develop and strengthen their skills and abilities – for their own benefit and the benefit of those who depend on them. When women break the bonds of emotional dependence and overcome the social and economic barriers that prevent them from going out in search of and achieving their dreams, goals and life projects, they will be truly empowered.
We were each created unique and irreplaceable and are the protagonists of our own personal and professional development. I believe that women are the ones responsible for managing change and transformation in our society. We have the ability to build fairer and more equitable societies, and to break through the barriers holding us back, both for ourselves and as the mothers and educators of tomorrow’s citizens. With effort and dedication, we can build a better Honduras and a better world.
More information on gender equality in Honduras is available on the UN Women website.