Testing virtuous spirals – Exploring the process of women’s empowerment through microcredit schemes in Kisumu, Kenya

Published on May 24, 2010 | Author: Martina Angela Caretta

Access to credit is key for people living in poverty to improve their livelihood conditions. Microfinance, targeting women in particular, has been widely debated in academic circles for its potential to empower women. This thesis is based on a case study aiming at exploring the phenomenon of women’s economic empowerment at the individual and group level thanks to the membership in ‘credit plus’ formal and informal microfinance schemes in Kisumu, Kenya.
In a context where gender structuring constrains women’s access to credit, this study looks at the outcomes of microcredit schemes where tailored training for women farmers or businesswomen is offered. Specifically, expenditure mode, control over loans, bargaining power within the household and group bonds were investigated.
Data gathered through observations and semi structured interviews were codified and organized in categories shaped by Mayoux’s ‘virtuous spirals’ and embedded in Kabeer’s conceptualization of empowerment, as a three step process focused on resources, agency and achievements.
Findings support the argument that microfinance schemes can trigger empowerment, for women and their groups. Thus, women can start an income generating activity, gain decision making power in relation to their husband and also improve the wellbeing of their families by investing more in children’s nutrition and education. This process boosts women’s self esteem, encourages other members to take on bigger challenges and reinforces mutual trust within the group.

During field work the significant potential of microcredit schemes membership in relation to climate change also emerged. Thus, African women being repositories of environmental knowledge because of their considerable agricultural labor, the provision of financial services coupled with training can be crucial to help them cope with a changing climate.
In conclusion, this study not only adds valuable empirical data to a limited research area on microfinance in Africa but also gives empirical evidence on the importance of access to financial services for women in East Africa and the potential added benefits they create for climate change adaptation in the future.
Caretta, M.A. (2010). Testing virtuous spirals – Exploring the process of women’s empowerment through microcredit schemes in Kisumu, Kenya. Master’s Thesis. LUMES. Lund University.
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