A significant development in recent years has been the mushrooming of community-based organizations and initiatives at the local level for women. Reports indicate that self-help programmes, often in the form of savings and credit or micro credit schemes, have succeeded in changing the lives of poor women, enhancing incomes and generating positive externalities such as increased self-esteem. This paper addresses the challenging issue of whether self-help micro credit programmes are tools for empowering poor women. 'Micro credit is about much more than access to money. It is about women gaining control over the means to make a living. It is about women lifting themselves out of poverty and vulnerability. It is about women achieving economic and political empowerment within their homes, their villages, their countries.' As Noeleen Heyzer of UNIFEM reveals in the above statement, there is clearly an important role for microfinance to play in the ‘empowerment’ of women. However, there remains much debate over exactly what this role should look like, as well as over exactly what is meant by the concept of ‘women’s empowerment.’ Much of the debate centers on the perceived tradeoffs between women’s empowerment efforts and organizational financial sustainability. Many microfinance institutions (MFIs) struggle with if and how they should incorporate empowerment strategies in their organizations in light of these perceived tradeoffs. Recent trends in donor funding away from organizations that place primary emphasis on women’s empowerment and toward organizations focused on achieving financial sustainability have created added skepticism around the value of adopting empowerment approaches in microfinance institutions. This paper challenges leaders in the microfinance field to look beyond these debates and trends and consider adopting new ‘participatory approaches’ to empowerment that will allow MFIs to create fundamental changes in gender relations while minimizing conflict with financial sustainability aims. It also encourages MFIs to ‘rethink’ many of the current program services in order to make them more empowering to women. Moreover, the paper presents a compelling case for why strategically planning for empowerment approaches is so crucial in the context of a microfinance sector where more and more practitioners are becoming complacent toward empowerment under the assumption that microfinance practices automatically produce significant empowerment benefits for women. By challenging this assumption and highlighting the other benefits of empowerment approaches, this paper hopes to move both practitioners and donors to take action toward adopting and encouraging new empowerment approaches in microfinance institutions. "In most of the developing countries today, more and more emphasis is laid on the need for development of women and their active participation in the main stream of development process. It is also widely recognized that apart from managing household, bearing children, rural women bring income with productive activities ranging from traditional work in the fields to working' in factories or running small and petty businesses. They have also proven that they can be better entrepreneurs and development managers in any kind of human development activities. Therefore, it is important and utmost necessary to make rural women empowered in taking decisions to enable them to be in the central part of any human development process. The empowerment of women also considered as an active process enabling women to realize their full identity and power in all spheres of life. Against the background of the patriarchal system of society, the women need special attention to ensure their development and participation in the decision making process at home, in the community and governance. Hence what is needed is a...
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