From Vicious to Virtuous Circles? Gender and Micro-Enterprise Development

Micro-enterprise development is no panacea

The paper critically reviews some of the past and current experience of micro-enterprise programmes for women: training, credit and producer groups and co-operatives. Although there are some successes, the evidence indicates that the majority of programmes fail to make any significant impact on women's incomes and cannot be assumed to have a beneficial impact on gender inequalities.

The diversity of the small-scale sector on the one hand and the complexity of constraints posed by poverty and inequality on the other make the likelihood of any 'blueprint' extremely slim. There is a very delicate balance between the need for more effective participation, resource-efficiency and scale.

What is clear however is that micro-enterprise cannot be seen as the 'all-win' bottom-up' solution to a wide range of development problems as the rhetoric would imply. It cannot be seen as a substitute for welfare programmes, direct efforts to support women workers or to address gender inequalities.