Learning Route on Gender and Microfinance-Uganda

Learning for empowerment !!!! by Maria Fernanda Arraes

Our third stop was in Kyarumba, Kasese District on the foothills of Ruwenzori to visit the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Microfinance Ltd. This was an excellent case to learn about their good practices, mainly in skills development for microfinance services. We were able to see new approaches in microfinance gender sensitive services and adaptions of the products to the communities’ reality. It was clear that women have fewer resources for accessing financial products and this has always constrained them from building assets and satisfying their financial needs. There is need to tailor the products and services to meet their needs.

Bukonzo Joint Cooperative has offered products to its members that range from savings, loans and investment building on the savings made which act as collateral. The loans offered are for buying coffee cherries during coffee season, payment of children’s schoolfees and buying scholastic materials, money for small businesses and investment in these other economic activitis.

To understand the products and services as well as delivery methodology used by Bukonzo Joint Cooperative and the changes at the communiy and household livelihoods, we spend one full day with them... We were overwhelmed by the warm welcome the community gave us: traditional, joyful music performed by the friendly, ever smiling women was just the beginning. This was followed by a wonderful taste of their very own organically grown coffee.

The introduction was great, we were invited to pick a friend (one visitor, one host) in order to break the language barriers, the host taught us how to use symbols to introduce themselves. The day’s agenda in symbols was all planned by them and presented based on a picture drawn in detail with a lot of curious symbols.

Based on their experience, they told us about their main issues and their main activities, in the community, group and individual levels. They expressed the role of men and women in the economic activities, the income and outcome of these activities and many other details about their situation. They shared their vision and all the steps that they planned to achieve these ideas, all expressed through colorful and structured pictures!

This way, we could know about some women individual lifestories, and also their visions and dreams: plans of building a house, the reduction of family violence, or the opportunity for their children to receive education. We saw that they had clear ideas how to achieve these goals and the necessary steps to do it, like diversifying their economic activities, accessing new markets and becoming part of the decisions in their cooperative and in the community.

Given the high illiteracy rate among the community members, the Bokonzo Cooperative could help them to really improve their skills using the pictorial methodology. The trainers told us that the most of the trainings have focused on having women issues at the forefront, however the realization of the training focus on women is counterproductive as the men became hostile. So, they recommend that all trainings should incorporate issues of both sexes and involve all family.

The women’s abilities to express their stories and visions about life through pictures has been built up with the extension staff for 12 months. Improving the method while practicing, the Cooperative seeks to educate its members in the importance of individual and business savings. Finally, they could achieve many of these objectives through an empowerment process based on a learning process, a lot of effort, work and agriculture and small business loans to members offered by their cooperative.

Generally the women are the biggest target of microfinance institutions because the lack to financial services and because they are consider more responsible and better financial managers. This experience shows us that the microfinance products can be more adapted to the rural communities needs, gender sensitive and based in families and rural communities’ dynamics, involving men and women and given then opportunities to understand the role of each. It can permit changes in the social inequities.

If you want to know more about these issues, please joint us in this journey... we´re going to our next stop in Iganga to learn from the Farmers Association and their experience with the Village Savings Loans.