Bac Giang, 24 March, 2010- Studies show that when a woman earns money the benefits to the family are greater. Her children are more likely to stay in school longer, they are healthier and the family is better nourished. In a 1998 study in Bangladesh, for instance, this was documented by measuring children’s height and arm circumference as well as school attendance records
Throughout the world the success of micro credit programs which target women’s employment has proved an efficient tool for development, particularly in poor rural areas.
The US$298 million Second Vietnam Rural Finance Program is built on a successful partnership with the Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Development and the Vietnam Women’s Union. The Bank disburses the micro-credit and the women’s union manages the credit users groups.
Ngo Thi Xuyen, director Agribank, Bac Giang province, says: “The Women’s Union set up the loan groups in the villages. Borrowers take a loan to start small businesses like poultry, farming, cattle and horticulture. Most households borrow between US$ 500 to US$1000 for which they don’t need collateral.” The lending cycle ranges from four months to 14 years depending on the product cycle.
The program has created some 10,000 jobs with women accounting for 35% of borrowers. Nearly all the funds have been invested in agriculture or animal farming and have made an effective contribution to developing the economy in an area that has been traditionally backward. Agribank has also invested in several mobile banking SUVs which arrive at remote mountain areas at prearranged dates to provide loans and collect repayments from village communities.
At their annual meeting in Bac Giang, we ask a group of 54 women borrowers if the program has had any impact on their lives.
“Our living standard was very low and we had a hard life. All we dreamt of was enough food to survive, not delicious meals,” says Pham Thi Hao, an active member of a borrowers group. “The program has made a big difference to our living standards. We have learnt new techniques to increase production as well as reaching new markets. What we need is to be able to borrow more money to make our bare hills green again, which is also important for the environment. We hope the World Bank will increase its program budget this year.”
Beyond micro-credit, the program has also helped women in dealing with social issues which adversely target women. Nguyen Thi Phuong, who has taken several loans over the years to develop her poultry and fruit business, talks about efforts to prevent trafficking in women in this poor area. “We used to hear about trafficked women so we did some awareness building, community members are vigilant now and know how to report cases. We have also attended workshops on domestic violence and know how to voice our opinions if our husbands go beyond the limit,” she says. The group also supports single mothers.
While micro credit has helped women improve their livelihood, it’s helping women move to the next level which requires greater expansion of capital and skills. Several women have borrowed over the years including Pham: “Once we return the loan we need to borrow again for the next business cycle,” she says. “We haven’t accumulated capital but with micro-credit support we have raised our family and had a good life.” Her luck may be about to change as she now has an interested buyer for her chickens in Ho Chi Minh City.