1.4 Women and the Economy
Project Example:Assisting Self-Help Groups
by Processing Cashew-Nuts (Maranon)
Project Example:"Nari Nidhi" Credit Fund for Indian Women
Financial pressure and a growing desire to work has led to the development,
that more women than ever contribute to the family income through employment.
Concrete disadvantages, however, such as an inadequate primary education
or vocational training, an insecure legal situation, or child-rearing responsibilities
have led to the phenomenon, that women often cannot land a permanent job
or work in poorly-paid employment situations. The informal sector is for
many the only alternative, although it by no means promises income security,
as access to the means of production and credit may be blocked, and one
may lack an understanding of technical production and business administration
As a rule, the total long-term effects of projects to improve the economic situation of women are very difficult to predict. For this reason, a continuous evaluation of project results is necessary, especially in close contact with the involved women, to identify unexpected problems and to work together in finding solutions. One must also recognize that measures to create and improve income-generating activities for women can consequently place additional strain on women who already have a great deal of work to do (e.g. work in the home). To keep this burden at a minimum, labour-saving technologies should be utilized wherever possible.
The following project instruments may be employed to improve the production-capacity and income-generation of small enterprises:
Gathering information about discriminatory structures which hinder especially women who lead small enterprises can provide a basis for developing measures to combat this problem.
Targeting women with small enterprises for basic and advanced training courses to supply them with skills and knowledge on management, economics, and production technology.
Identifying market segments for the goods women produce; this measure should not be confined to the marketing of products traditionally made by women.
Creating and/or improving access to credit by initiating and/or supporting saving and loan programs. In addition to instituting guaranteed credit or revolving funds, one may also consider providing assistance for women in the application procedure or tapping new, external credit sources. Existing credit-fund programs should actively make women aware of existing fund-raising programs.
Eliminating economic discrimination by promoting functional and politically effective representative structures such as associations and self-help organizations, which are committed to representing women with small enterprises. Lobbying efforts should also be directed towards the attainment of legal guarantees of access to important means of production, such as land.
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Groups by Processing Cashew-Nuts (Marañon) in Honduras
This program aims to create jobs for women in the production
of dried fruits and nuts from cashew plants, to raise their family incomes.
The fact that a new product is produced with the help of labour-intensive
technology makes it a true pilot project. The project is carried out in
the southern province of Choluteca, a densely-populated area which qualifies
as an emergency area on account of its climate and social and economic
The main problem is a shortage of jobs, especially for women, who are the heads of families in most cases.
Women here have no access to agriculture. At best, they may find seasonal employment as wage-labourers on export plantations. Their lack of education - often they haven't completed primary school - hinders access to permanent positions.
Targeted for the project are especially underprivileged women without real property and small farmers (campesinos), who live and work at a subsistence level.
The American Development Bank initiated a project in the 1970s, whereby over 2000 hectares were planted with cashew trees. The trees have thrived in the harsh climate of the region. Through land reform they are now in the hands of the campesinos. Before the existing womens' project, the plants were only to a small degree systematically harvested for the production of dried fruits. On the other hand, the cashew-nut plantations have enormous value-added potential, as demand for high-quality nuts commands good prices on the international market (US & Europe).
Within this context, in 1985 the FEF started cooperating with several informal women's organizations, which later merged into the women's cooperative "La Surenita". The initial phase of the project (1985-1991) aimed at the creation of 100 to 200 part-time jobs for women in the production of dried fruits. The program was expanded in 1990 to include the processing of nuts. In addition to harvesting and roasting nuts, the valuable oil from the shells is extracted, and part-time jobs have become permanent, year-round positions. During the first phase, a total of three nut-processing facilities and five processing plants for the production of dried fruits were built.
The nut-processing facilities complement the technical and organizational skills of the target group and fit local conditions. Local building materials were used, and the wood ovens burn efficiently. Environmental sustainability has been achieved through extensive reforestation. The forests receive greater care now that they are used and this also helps improve the micro-climate.
As there is an existing market for nuts, two additional facilities were built early in 1991. Demand grew by leaps and bounds for these products through the interest of the Honduran market and the GEPA in Germany.
In the second phase of the project, between 1992 and 1995 more women's groups were drawn into the program and more facilities were built. Through the creation of a special fund which financed the purchase of raw nuts, which are in high demand during the short harvest season from January to April, the production facilities can run at full capacity year-round.
In addition to technical support, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has provided assistance to the women's groups as to how to manage the accounting for the cooperative, how to set up a local store for consumer goods, and advice in general legal matters.
The effects of the project have been extremely positive, not only for the women directly involved, but for the local village community as well. The utilization of existing, unused resources has created secure jobs for women and indirectly for men as well.
Economic improvements have been accompanied by a positive change in the attitudes of local men towards women in the work force. The women's cooperative "La Surenita" successfully expanded its activities from the processing of the cashew fruit into dried nuts to the processing of the nut itself. During the first years of the project, men either openly ridiculed their efforts or, at best, smiled indulgently. In the course of the program, when the involved women proved to be the only individuals in the community with a secure, albeit modest, income, the local men turned to the cooperative and asked for assistance. The subsequent mutual acceptance and understanding was an important step forward for women in this community, which is still characterized by very traditional mores and behaviour.
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Credit Fund for Indian Women
In 1990 the FEF placed approximately 70,000 German marks
at the disposal of the credit fund, an idea which was conceived jointly
with the partner organization ADITHI, which had already cooperated extensively
with women's groups in the Bihar province. Prior to this, women could only
get credit to set-up or improve their small enterprises through middle
men who demanded usurious interest rates and exploitative conditions, which
not rarely led to life-long debt-servitude.
Targeted recipients for funding are enterprising women from lower social strata, who lack access to the formal banking system and have united in women's self-help groups.
The fund extends credit to women's self-help groups which have been advised by ADITHI for at least one year, and which have pledged to meet the strict requirements demanded by the fund's statutes.
The groups, which carry liability for the entire amount, distribute the funds among their members. The term of credit runs one year, during which it is paid back in equal monthly installments.
An interest rate of currently 12% covers all administration costs and losses due to inflation. The granting and redemption of loans are supervised by ADITHI. An obligatory social security savings-contribution of currently 15% is coupled with loan repayment.
By late 1993, approximately 2000 women have already received loans ranging from 20 to 100 German marks; more than 90% of the recipients repay their loans within the allotted time period.
Thanks to ADITHI's effective management, and the FEF's important accompanying measures to the savings and loan program, such as training and refresher courses or consultation with short-term experts, the fund has enjoyed positive development. In 1994, it was able to augment its capital pool with a loan of 90 000 German marks from the National Credit Fund for Women. Long-term plans include the transformation of Nari Nidhi into an intermediary financial organization or an independent bank.
Study results have been placed at the disposal of other loan funds in the remaining Indian provinces.
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