Tackling the Down Side: Social Capital, Women's Empowerment and Microfinance in Cameroon
This paper presents the case of microfinance programs that are currently promoted by the 'financial self-sustainability paradigm' where women's participation in groups is promoted as a key means of increasing financial sustainability and is assumed to automatically empower them. It informs that the financial self-sustainability paradigm assumes that:
- Social capital is inherently positive and beneficial;
- It can be used by programs without external intervention to build or increase it.
The paper argues that this optimism about intrinsic simultaneous benefits tends to undermine the program aims of empowerment, financial sustainability and poverty targeting.
Further, the paper examines the experience of seven microfinance programs in Cameroon and collects evidence to indicate that microfinance programs that build social capital do indeed make a significant contribution to women's empowerment.
Finally, the paper indicates the possibility of building on existing social capital to increase contributions to poverty alleviation, empowerment, and financial sustainability through:
- Building horizontal networks for mutual support;
- Challenging vertical inequalities between women and men and amongst women themselves;
- Introducing gender training strategies for men;
- Encouraging collaborations of microfinance programs with other organizations working to challenge gender subordination.