Enabling women to access finance should be a priority if meaningful development is to be attained

Thursday March 14 2019


96 per cent of the respondents in a survey done by Pro-femme/Twese Hamwe in eight Districts in the southern province said that they are still financially depending on their husband. PHOTO | Courtesy  

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Every given Saturday, thousands of weddings happen in Rwanda, and the biggest segment of the couples agree to a 50/50 ownership of property, however in reality this remains just a myth, as many married women still can’t use family assets as collateral to access credit. 

The government of Rwanda has done a commendable job especially in coming up with gender inclusive and women empowerment policies, like the new succession law, where women now equal inheritance rights to men. 

The recently enacted maternity leave law is another important gender sensitive instrument instrument in place now, where women can now get full pay when they are away on maternity leave, which was also increased to three months, however there is still more to be done. 

A survey done by Pro-femme/Twese Hamwe in eight Districts in the southern province, indicated that 75 per cent of the respondents have no say regarding investment decisions in the family, that although they have 50 per cent share of the family wealth, they can’t use them when they need agricultural loans. 

96 per cent of the respondents said that they are still financially depending on their husbands simply because men are regarded as the heads of the family, breadwinners and decision makers in the household. 

Although there are gender sensitive laws in place, the survey report shows that majority of the women in Rwanda are still victims of the classic cultural norms that leans towards patriarchy. 

For years Rwanda has been globally acknowledged for its outstanding record in having the highest number of women in parliament and the senate, the recent parliamentary elections left the Rwanda parliament with 61 per cent women in the house. 

However, much as this number looks commendable, and an inspiration to many women, it leaves out a big chunk of illiterate women in the villages who are still not empowered, with many spending their days buried in unpaid care work, while others suffer high rates of gender based violence, child defilement, teenage pregnancy,  which has left them economically backward. 

This survey is just one part of the many interventions implemented by Pro-Feme/Twese Hamwe, an umbrella organisation of 53 civil society organisations engaged in promotion of women rights, gender equality and peacebuilding. 

Women still suffer economic, structural, social and cultural constraints, which have left many of them economically dependent on their spouses, subjecting them to sever cases of low self-esteem and loss of confidence. 

Because of these factors, majority are still limited in accessing formal financial services, with the few who access it do it informally, which is directly linked to their heavy involvement in informal businesses. 

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics, in 2015, 25% of all registered parcels of land were for women only, 19% for men only and 54% for married couples, which implies that the total proportion of women eligible to use land as collateral stands at 79%. 

However, the figures show that less than a half (38%) has used land certificates to access loans, men still control the household resources and property at 100%. 

Data from BNR showed that the authorized loans to women for the financial year 2014/2015 represent 67% lower than that of men. Findings demonstrate that collateral requirement is the strongest determinant limiting women’s access to finance in agriculture sector. 

High levels of financial literacy also affect many women from accessing credit and succeeding in business, the survey revealed that 84.9% of the respondents need financial literacy. 

Although there are currently many initiatives with many products aimed at improving women access to finance, little has been done to engage beneficiaries to understand their actual needs, hence these have not produced results because there is lack of ownership. 

Village saving and loan associations (VSLAs) as well as many other mutual self-help groups which are active throughout the country especially in the area of cooperatives, have been beneficial from the cost, convenience and coverage point of view especially to the poor, however, they largely remain informal with limited capacity in their management. 

Banks and non-bank financial institutions are called upon to build on this momentum to innovatively package appropriate products that suit women in agriculture sector needs. 

Unpaid care work, which has remained high among women in the last decade and beyond, has among other things affected women from accessing information related to finance, as many are always taken up by household chores by the time this information airs on radios, TV’s, and many also don’t get time to interact with other community members from whom they would get that information. 

It has been observed that women suffer the most from effects of climate change, and that there should be deliberate efforts geared towards lessening the effects of climate change to women, through employing climate change adaptation mechanisms. 

Government and other actors have also been advised to develop gender transformative products tailored to women smallholder farmers, and to also come up with a special guarantee fund for women in agriculture activities. 

As the world commemorates the International Women’s day, PRO-FEMMES/TWESE HAMWE urges the government of Rwanda, policy makers, and civil society organisations as well other development actors to allocate efforts and resources on addressing the limitations that still hinder women from attaining meaningful economic empowerment.