WWB GENDER STUDY: The Capacity of Poor Women to Grow Their
Businesses in the Dominican Republic
Providing credit to poor women is a great way to enable the
financial stability and economic progress of low-income
households. But because of gender-based constraints, burdens
and responsibilities, in the Dominican Republic as in many
countries, more than credit is required if women are to make
real progress in lifting their families out of poverty.
The poor women of Santo Domingo who are the focus of this
study are responsible for meeting all of their families’ needs
except basic housing and food. The expenses associated with the
education of children, health care, clothing, furniture, and
family emergencies all fall on women’s shoulders. This limits
their capacity to reinvest profits into their businesses.
Time-allocation for women is also a major constraint. Women
who go into business to provide for their families’ needs must
incorporate the demands of their business within an already full
schedule of child care, cooking, cleaning and caring for
relatives. Despite these burdens, women’s traditional status
within the family and in society is low. Women may bear the
burdens, but men call the shots. Yet as this study shows, these
dynamics change and women’s autonomy grows as they earn income.
Women’s gender-based, personal priorities also play a role,
influencing their motives for going into business, their choice
of business options, and the goals they hope to achieve through
their business ventures. Women tend to equate success with
stability and a secure future, rather than with an accumulation
of capital or business assets. Securing a better life for their
children through education and a steady income for their own old
age tend to be women’s first priorities. Moreover, when women
receive support to engage in business, their increased autonomy
within the household, their growing independence and
self-confidence are, for them, tangible rewards of work.
Santo Domingo Speak Out
Between 2002 and 2003, Women’s World Banking conducted
in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with 130 women
and men, clients of the microfinance institution ADOPEM from
low-income neighborhoods in Santo Domingo. Assured of
anonymity, interviewees spoke candidly about gender-based family
dynamics, the demands of home and work, the financial pressures
they face and the survival strategies they employ. The
objective of the research was to paint an authentic picture of
these women’s lives, enabling ADOPEM to better understand their
needs and to design and offer a wider variety of responsive
products and services to ensure that poor women meet their
primary goal of financial security for their families.
Ana Celeste Genao Rodriguez:
A Widow Finds Security with Family Support
Ana Celeste Genao was 23 when her husband died 18 years ago.
She had three small children, the youngest just four months old,
and no means of support. She moved back with the children to
her parents’ small wooden house, where her brother and sister
were also living. Her family helped her go to university for
two years to study accounting. After university she worked as
an accountant in a liquor export business. Her uncle ran a
small grocery store on the plot of land where the family was
living, but it was not doing well.
In 1988, Ana Celeste’s aunt, who was living in New York,
encouraged her to take over her uncle’s store and lent her
RD$3,000, or US$136, interest-free. This she used to pay her uncle for the
existing inventory. There was a refrigerator and freezer in the
store that belonged to her mother, so she continued to use
them. She gradually built up the business. She took out her
first loan from ADEMI, a microfinance institution, for RD$20,000
and used it to finance the construction of a two-story cement
house on her mother’s property. She managed to repay the loan
with the profits from her store. That same year she took out
another loan from ADEMI (RD$30,000) and bought an electricity
generator, as well as an awning for her store.
In 1999, Ana Celeste took out her first loan from ADOPEM
(RD$10,000) to build shelves in the store and buy inventory.
Her business improved as she gradually upgraded its inventory
and equipment, some of which she acquired on credit. For
example, her fruit juice display cabinet cost RD$26,000; she
paid the supplier RD$3,000 up front and then paid off the rest
in equal monthly installments, with no interest. Similarly, she
paid RD$3,000 up front for her beer freezer, in equal monthly
installments with no interest.
Ana Celeste has combined credit from ADEMI and ADOPEM, as
well as profits from her business, to finance the construction
of her apartment in the new cement house. She borrowed an
additional RD$50,000 from ADEMI to help pay for the
construction. Her second loan from ADOPEM, taken in 2000, paid
for the windows.
Ana Celeste’s third loan from ADOPEM, in November 2001, was
for RD$25,000. She used RD$20,000 of it to stock up on beer
(one of the highest margin items in her store) and put RD$5,000
toward buying a computer for her daughter. She also took out a
loan (RD$15,000) from an organization called PROMIPYME to buy
the computer. Her most recent loan from ADEMI was for
RD$100,000, which she used to buy furniture for her house.
Ana Celeste’s only income source is her store. Thanks to her
family support network and to the availability of credit, she
has built up a business whose daily cash income enabled her to
raise her three children and build her apartment. Although the
property legally belongs to her mother, she pays her mother rent
only for the ground floor where the store is located. Ana
Celeste expects to eventually inherit the property from her
She opens the store early in the morning and closes it around
11 p.m. She usually has the help of one of her daughters
between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. Most afternoons she can rest,
but on Mondays and Thursdays she shops for vegetables and grains
in the market. Her younger daughter helps her in the evenings.
Differences in Perceptions of
Women’s and Men’s Roles and Responsibilities
The men and women interviewed differed in their perceptions
of how well each of them fulfilled their respective roles and
responsibilities. The women felt that their economic
contribution to the family income and their housework-related
accomplishments were undervalued and little recognized.
At least some of these differences of opinion originate in
the “machismo” aspect of male identity. Infidelity creates
mistrust, lack of transparency and lack of communication. It
also increases the possibility of abandonment. The diversion of
part of the man’s income to what is perceived by women as
unnecessary expenses (alcohol, gambling, recreation, friends,
lovers) has a debilitating effect on the household economy.
Having multiple families – particularly in this low-income
segment of society – limits the amount of money men can spend on
each one, which may account for why men limit their financial
responsibility to just food and housing. Finally, conflicts
over “machismo” affect the development potential of both men’s
and women’s businesses, because distrust, unease and
disagreements limit possibilities for cooperation or development
of joint projects, whether economic or social. Women
interviewees confirmed that cooperation inside the household was
important to their success in business.
Men and women differ about what it means to take
responsibility for the household. While men perceive themselves
as heads of the household with ultimate responsibility for the
family, women say that in reality it is they who are responsible
for everything in the home.
difference in perception versus reality gets played out most
notably in the financial arena, where men limit their
responsibility to paying for food and housing while women
have to pay for everything else: additional food, clothing,
school fees, medicine, furniture, etc. Women perceive this
to be totally unfair.
area of difference between perceptions and reality concerns
what it means to be a father. Women argue that men see this
role as simply “fathering” children and having basic
responsibility for them, rather than taking on the
responsibility for “parenting.” Hence, a phenomenon that
could be described as “absent fatherhood” is relatively
common – whereby men live in the same house as their
children but do not act as parents.
shift into income-generating activities has not been met
with a comparable shift in men taking responsibility for the
housework or managing the household. This means that the
majority of women interviewed work very long hours and
juggle a huge number of tasks. While women acknowledge that
this is hard, it was not a significant source of discontent.
Aspirations and Definitions
When asked what they aspired to in life, most interviewees
mentioned goals such as living in a home they could call their
own, having their children become professionals, upgrading their
own education and ensuring that they had financial security in
their old age.
Measuring the “success” of microentrepreneurs by the growth
in sales of a single business ignores the multiple sound
investment allocations households make in order to cater to
present and future needs. Broadening the definition of success
to include housing, the education of children and oneself, and
financial security for the present and the future is more useful
in explaining strategies that households engage in.
and Vertical Strategies: Growing One Business vs.
The likelihood of growth for a single business is compromised
because most households prefer to have several businesses.
Women especially were likely to have a number of businesses
(horizontal investing), whereas men are more likely to plow
their earnings back into a single business. Women’s horizontal
investment strategy lowers the vulnerability of the household in
case of business failure (not putting all their eggs in one
basket), and smooths the income flow over weeks, months and
years. But it also limits the growth potential of the woman’s
Diversifies: Lunch Business, General Store, SANES, Rental
Florentina Reyes has a successful lunch business, but a year
after she started selling lunches, she began to diversify her
business activities. In 1988, she borrowed RD$125 from a friend
of her husband and started a small “store” – a table in her
wooden house – where she sold coffee, sugar, bread, cookies,
mints and cigarettes. Her son’s godmother, who lives in New
York, gave her some cloth to sell in order to pay back the
RD$125 loan. She bought a freezer for RD$20,000 with store
credit and started making fruit juices and ice cream to sell.
She saved between RD$20 to RD$30 a day from the ice cream and
fruit juice sales to pay the monthly installments for the
freezer. She soon added soft drinks and beer, which have a
higher profit margin.
In 1990, Florentina organized a SAN for 40 pesos a day which
provided her with a lump sum to invest. She combined that with
some of her earnings from the lunch business and her husband’s
wages, and gradually bought cement blocks. Over the course of a
year, Florentina’s husband constructed concrete walls around
their wooden house. They shifted the wooden house to the side
of the concrete structure and finished off the concrete
structure with a roof. The family then moved into the concrete
house and rented out the wooden house for RD$500 a month. This
was her first rental income. The household at this point had
four sources of income: the lunch business, the store, rent and
her daughter’s earnings.
In 1997, Florentina won RD$1,000 in a lottery. Instead of
spending it, she combined it with her first loan from ADOPEM
(RD$4,000) and bought the construction materials with which her
husband built two rooms above the main house. They rented these
rooms out for RD$800 a month each. Every month she used the
rental income to pay off the loan from ADOPEM and to buy more
construction materials. Meanwhile, the profits from her two
other businesses were used to restock those businesses and cover
household expenses. The family’s main meal came out of the same
food that she cooked each day for her lunch business, and the
merchandise she bought for her store was also used at home.
In 1998 Florentina took out her second loan from ADOPEM
(RD$8,000) to buy more construction materials, with which her
husband built two more rooms. Each room was rented out for
RD$800. At this point, the family’s total rental income per
month was RD$3,700, or US$168. It is important to note that at
this stage the bulk of the household’s expenses were paid out of
the lunch business and the store rather than out of the rental
income. The latter was earmarked to pay off the loan from
ADOPEM and the store credit she received from the hardware store
for the construction materials. With whatever was left over,
Florentina continued to invest in construction materials to
build additional rooms. Her husband was now 67 years old and
his capacity to earn money had diminished. He continued to get
some paid work but focused mostly on building rental units in
the family compound.
In 1999, Florentina received her third loan from ADOPEM
(RD$15,000) and borrowed another RD$25,000 in 2000. This fourth
loan was used to build a bathroom inside the main house and to
buy a radio for the family. In 2001, Florentina borrowed for a
fifth time from ADOPEM (RD$40,000) and built a little two-room
house behind the family house. They rented each room for
RD$900. At this point her wooden house was earning RD$900, so
that her total monthly rental income was RD$5,900, or US$268.
As always, she used the rent to pay off the loan from ADOPEM and
her debts at the hardware store. She also used part of it to
pay back the grocery store that supplied the inventory for her
lunch business and store.
In 2001 she decided to close off a portion of her front porch
and relocate her store there. This was a good location on a
busy street. At this time she also started selling clothes to
the employees of the company where she sold lunches. She
thought this would be a good business too, but unfortunately it
did not do well and she stopped it in 2002.
In 2002, Florentina borrowed RD$60,000 from ADOPEM and
RD$20,000 from an associate who is a lawyer with the aim of
building two rooms: one for rent as a store front and the other
above the store front for rent as accommodation.
She still owed ADOPEM RD$13,000 from the previous loan and
ADOPEM deducted this amount from the RD$60,000. At the time of
the WWB interview (March 2003), the store front had been
completed and was rented for RD$3,000 per month. Florentina’s
husband was finishing the floor of the room above it. The
expected income from that room is RD$1,500.
Florentina was able to pay the lawyer most of the RD$20,000
very quickly since she managed to rent the store front and
secure RD$21,000 up front from the tenant. This included
RD$9,000 for three months rent; RD$9,000 as a deposit and a real
estate commission of RD$3,000. Florentina still owes the lawyer
RD$2,000 and said that she will pay him with the June rent. She
has hired this same lawyer to collect the rent from all her
tenants for which she pays him a 10 percent commission. Her
monthly rental income in July 2003 will be just under RD$10,000,
In Florentina’s words, her “main business is building rooms
to rent” and her investments have paid off handsomely because of
the following reasons:
investment – diversifying in more than one business – makes
a lot of sense for many households, since with more than one
business, money comes in at different times. It also lowers
the vulnerability in case one business fails.
Diversification also helps women manage time, as some
businesses, such as hairdressing, require active management,
while others, such as renting a room, require only passive
The Capacity to Invest Money
in the Business
The capacity of women to grow their businesses through
reinvestment of profits is often limited by the various demands
placed on their earnings. Since women feel responsible for
meeting all the needs of the family (except for housing and
basic food) they see their business more as a means of
sustaining their household, rather than as a vehicle for
needs beyond business investment
Both female and male interviewees were asked to identify and
discuss the lifecycle events that exert the most financial
pressure in their households. The interviewees were asked to
indicate the amount of financial pressure by allocating the
numbers 1 (low pressure) to 5 (high pressure) to each lifecycle
event. The participants were then asked to discuss how they
cope with these lifecycle events at present and what kind of
products a microfinance organization could provide to help them
respond to these events.
The events that place the most financial pressure on
households are housing, children’s education, health, the costs
of dying (both funeral expenses and ensuring that their
dependents are taken care of), and the costs of old age. It is
interesting that in terms of financial pressure, education
received more points than ensuring enough resources for old
age. Perhaps this can be explained by the age of the
interviewees (most were under 40), which would make the
education of their children a need more immediately felt. It is
also possible that some interviewees are assuming that their
children, if they receive a good education, will support them
when they are old.
While households engage in a series of strategies to cope
with these events, i.e., borrowing from institutions and each
other, saving and liquidating assets, there is no doubt that
there is enormous demand for affordable and flexible savings,
insurance and loan products tailored to each lifecycle event.
the most important investment for the present and the
also perceived as a source of income for the present – and
as security and retirement income for the future.
investing in housing reduces financial vulnerability in the
event of abandonment by their husbands.
low-income people everywhere, interviewees build their
represents the second highest economic pressure after
(public as well as private) is very expensive and many
parents find it difficult to afford it.
school system is perceived to be of very poor quality. Most
parents try to send their children to private school if they
can afford it.
savings products would help families pay for schooling.
3. Health Care
to cover expenses for sickness is literally perceived to be
a life or death issue.
appears to be consensus over the fact that the health care
system is inadequate.
for covering health expenses include savings, borrowing
money from family members and neighbors, selling household
items and reaching out to NGOs.
interviewees paid for private health insurance (i.e., people
with greater economic capacity) or received it as a benefit
from working in the formal sector.
some mistrust of existing insurance vehicles, and some
interviewees said that you are better off paying with cash.
But most people agreed it was crucial to have some kind of
health insurance would reduce the vulnerability of poor
4. Old Age
low business sales were the only group to identify old age
as one of the lifecycle events that exerted the most
for covering financial needs during old age include saving
and investing in property and children. Pension plans exist
only for those who have formal employment.
A long term
savings account with insurance that guarantees the payout if
the saver dies before term is a product increasingly seen in
the microfinance sector. More work needs to be done in
designing an affordable pension product for the informal
Gender Roles and Household
In general, men and women agreed that men’s minimum
responsibilities include covering the family’s basic
necessities: buying food and paying for housing. The women
perceived themselves as being responsible for all other
expenses, including clothing for their children,
education-related expenses, furniture and other household items,
and health-related expenses.
These differences in perception may be partially explained by
men’s and women’s actual roles. The men do not participate in
managing the household and they do not do housework; thus, they
are unaware of what the financial requirements are. Moreover,
women attach value to replacing or buying furniture and other
household items that men see as superfluous.
There are also differences in perception regarding the use of
discretionary funds. Most of the women think men squander money
on alcohol and other women, while the men think women like to go
shopping and that they spend more than is necessary on clothing,
perfume and getting their hair done. Yet when forced to decide
whether to spend money on something for the family or on
something they want personally, it is the women who choose to
spend on the family.
business profits for household expenditures
Most women interviewees reported that they had to divert a
portion of their business profits to household expenditures
since they were responsible for all household expenditures with
the exception of housing and food. This diversion of profits
gets more extreme the poorer the household. Business earnings
are distributed among such areas as savings, education of
children and concrete blocks for construction or additions to
their houses. This type of behavior, though rational, limits
the amount of profits that women reinvest in their main
women appear to have different perceptions of the resources
needed to manage a household. Women think that men
underestimate expenditures, and men think that women
overestimate them. Women think that this is because men are
simply unaware of the costs in time and money needed to
manage a household because they do not engage in these
activities. These different perceptions easily lead to
frustration and conflict.
expression of masculine gender identity – the image
projected to the outside world and the right to have a good
time – is seen in the importance men attach to buying a
car. While many men rationalize the expense as being
necessary for their businesses, many women see the car as a
way of showing off success to other people and, therefore,
as an expense that is often unnecessary. Whether or not the
car is used for the business – men are not shy about
justifying the purchase of a car for the sake of their
Understandably, the most volatile of these issues is the use
of a man’s earnings (and in some cases, the woman’s) on
“other” women. Men seem to justify this expense in terms of
their masculinity, as they justify the purchase of a car.
acknowledge that they manage, and decide how to use, at
least some of their income, and that this income is often
used for their own entertainment and consumption.
Gender Roles and Saving
Because men and women exhibit different behaviors and
priorities with regard to spending, women have adopted covert
patterns of saving that permit them to cover immediate household
costs and prepare for unexpected future expenses. To protect
their savings and reduce the risk of loss, women often choose to
hide their savings from their husbands.
Women save wherever they can, in piggy banks at home, and
most are involved in ROSCAs (Sanes) as organizers and
participants. Saving by purchasing cement blocks is also
Interestingly, lending money was mentioned by many
participants as a savings mechanism, because it earns a much
greater return than many investment activities: 40 percent a
month, far more than any savings vehicle could offer.
Women tend to save from their housekeeping money as well as
from their businesses, on a daily basis in small amounts. By
contrast, men who save usually do so in bank accounts and for a
specific purpose. In part, savings-related behavior can be
explained by gender identities and gender-prescribed roles and
responsibilities. Women, who manage daily spending, understand
that money is spent or saved peso by peso. Men, on the other
hand, may think that saving in tiny quantities is not worth the
trouble, or may implicitly assume that their wife will take care
interviewees were critical of men’s attitudes regarding
savings, saying that men tend to focus on the present and
squander money instead of saving for the future. Women
consistently said that men do not save and, for that reason,
women are the ones who must save.
people save differ by household income. The poorer
households tend to save only for emergencies, while the
better off also save for school fees, to buy plots of land,
to pay loan installments and to supplement their loans to
make other investments.
various saving strategies: They stretch their housekeeping
money as much as they can, or they tend to tell their male
partners that they need more money for food and other
household expenses than they actually do, which allows them
to save what is left over.
savings separate from men in many households simply because,
if they do not, men will either want to use the money or
will contribute less housekeeping money. They also do not
tell their male partners how much money they earn.
notable that gender does not deter men from saving (overtly,
in bank accounts) for specific purposes, such as another
business, a house, or a car. Nor does gender prevent women
from using their savings to actively invest. Both men and
women frequently buy cement blocks and reinforcing bars to
build houses. Women – the better savers – do it more.
One traditional savings mechanism which exists in many
countries is the Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA).
Known as SANES in the Dominican Republic, they consist of groups
of individuals who make regular cyclical contributions to a
common fund. For example, 20 people each contribute 100 pesos a
week for 20 weeks. Each week one person can access the entire
amount, i.e. 2,000 pesos, until the 20 weeks are up. Each
person’s turn is usually determined by lottery, but if a member
of a SAN is in great need, the group will give priority to
them. In Dominican society, all income groups participate in
SANES are used for multiple purposes, including generating a
lump sum that can be used to invest in a business or a plot of
land or to pay off a loan or school fees. A SAN has several
advantages over the piggy bank that make it attractive to poor
women: It is very convenient in that money is collected and
taken away from the house, making it harder to dip into and it
enables women to save small amounts on a daily basis. A SAN can
be kept confidential from one’s husband and it facilitates
saving for a particular goal. The element of chance, such as
gambling on the fact that one will get the payout quickly, also
appeals to the Dominican psyche. Although some men reported
using SANES, they are used most extensively by women.
In 1997, Bethania Rodriguez started organizing SANES with her
neighbors. One of Bethania’s most recent SANES will serve as an
On February 26th, 2003, Bethania finished a SAN that had five
participants, each of whom contributed RD$100 (US$4.50) a day
for 60 days, a total of RD$6,000 each or RD$30,000 for the
entire SAN. The payout was every ten days and the payout
sequence was determined by lot. Interestingly, the payout
amount was just RD$5,000 because Bethania as the SAN organizer
was entitled to a payout without contributing any money to the
SAN. This was her fee for organizing and managing it. In
addition, as the organizer Bethania got the first payout. She
received this lump sum just ten days after she had organized the
Bethania usually runs a couple of SANES at a time and has
done so more or less continuously since 1997. She usually goes
to collect the payments from the participants but sometimes they
bring the money to her. She uses the profits as investment
capital for her various other business ventures, as well as to
pay off loans from ADOPEM.
an immediate and convenient way to save small amounts of
money for a variety of purposes: school tuition, purchasing
household items, inputs for a business, paying back a loan
or home improvements.
Gender Roles and Investment
Gender roles, as well as lack of access to health insurance,
life insurance and pension plans, determine men’s and women’s
investment patterns. Although both male and female interviewees
said they give priority to investing in housing and in educating
their children, the women – in view of their responsibility for
raising children – tended to put more emphasis on these
investments than did the men. In some cases, the men said that
they would resist investing in housing if there is any doubt
regarding the permanence of the relationship, because if the
couple separates, the woman will probably end up keeping the
house. Since 2003, WWB has worked with ADOPEM to introduce
particularly housing, is seen as the main investment
vehicle, and women seem to put more emphasis on buying a
from renting out houses and rooms is a way to cover current
expenses, such as children’s education, and ensure income
for the future, especially during old age.
The Capacity to Invest Time
in a Business
Women’s roles in household maintenance, child rearing and as
the primary care giver to the extended family (parents,
siblings, etc.) place significant limits on the amount of time
they can devote to their businesses, thus limiting their
businesses’ growth potential. Ideally, women would like
part-time or flexible working hours.
importance of a support network
Women who have succeeded in growing their businesses often
receive support from female family members (mothers, sisters,
daughters, etc.) for childcare and household tasks. Conversely,
lack of this type of support limits women’s business success.
The provision of affordable childcare would have a major
impact on women’s business growth. This issue is a familiar one
wherever and whenever women have the opportunity to vent their
feelings about matters that deeply affect them. For Dominican
men, on the other hand, it is a non-issue. Wives, sisters,
mothers will always step in to look after their offspring.
Supporting an extended family as a means of ensuring old age
security is especially evident in women’s priorities Having
little discretionary income and the burden of their children to
support, there is limited scope to save for retirement or
unemployment. Women, therefore, must depend on maintaining
their networks and links to family and friends.
By looking at the gender dynamics of the household, this
research sheds light on the complex lives of a small group of
ADOPEM clients. It also documents some of the diverse
strategies these clients employ for managing household economic
portfolios. The findings not only reinforce WWB’s understanding
of low-income people’s need for a diverse range of financial
products, including credit, savings, and insurance; they also
have implications for potential non-financial inputs such as
child care and health care services, training on gender
relations and women’s rights, and finally, business development
Households, Diverging Priorities
It is important to acknowledge these differences and analyze
the gender-related factors that have an impact on the management
of a family group’s “economic portfolio.” Management strategies
differ depending on household income level: the poorest family
groups tend to be the most vulnerable to risk, and different
families manage risk in different ways. Financial services can
play an important role in changing the way risk affects the
economic decisions of the family group and its members.
Although men play a recognizable role as heads of household
and are responsible for food and housing, most households need
more than one income to survive. Thus, increased participation
by women in income-generating activities has influenced
intra-household dynamics. Although men place an increasing
value on women as generators of income, they still do not value
unpaid household work done by women. But if women did not do
this type of work, someone would have to be paid to do it.
Economic activity generates income that in turn generates
power; thus, as women earn money they begin to acquire economic
independence and self-confidence. However, inequality in the
distribution of household tasks among family members creates
unlimited demands on women’s time and energy, restricting their
personal and business development.
Being able to get past these barriers necessarily assumes
reordering, reassigning or transferring responsibilities to
other people. These could be the husband, a paid (household)
worker or a family member. It also assumes significant
self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as more than usual
equality and cooperation with the husband.
Products and Service Delivery
While it is important to continuously reduce transaction time
for all microentrepreneurs, women’s businesses in particular,
are time-sensitive due to their other household duties. Time
spent getting to or from a branch, in the branch or in a group
meeting should be kept to a minimum. In societies where women live in seclusion, however, time
spent in meetings with other women should be promoted, provided
it fits in with other demands on women’s time.
Women want to see their financial services provider as a
trusted advisor. They are more sensitive to good and bad
customer service than men and expect their dealings to be more
relational than transactional. Training in customer care should
take this into account. Institutions focusing on the women’s
market will need to make customer service a core competency.
Women do not want different, “feminine” products such as pink
checkbooks, but they generally do want more information before
making a decision to purchase a financial service. This should
also be integrated into customer service training for front-line
staff, and marketing materials should explain service attributes
and conditions clearly and transparently.
Some product categories, such as long-term savings products
and insurance, require more explanation than others. Financial
literacy training can be integrated into product marketing
invention of the group loan mechanism by the Grameen Bank in
Bangladesh in the 1970s was a breakthrough because it
minimized the collateral required, enabling very poor people
to borrow money. Individual loans, on the other hand, still
require some form of guarantee. In general, women have less
access to certain types of collateral such as land titles
and they have less access to guarantors who have salaried
jobs. Lenders should take this into account when designing
products that target women.
research has shown, households are not necessarily
co-operative. Many women reported that as they increased
their financial contribution to the household, their male
partner reduced his. With this in mind, it is important to
be sensitive to a woman’s need for confidentiality from her
financial services provider. Institutions need to think
carefully before mandating that the husband’s signature
should be on the loan agreement. Likewise, with savings
products, savers should be allowed to keep their balances
are responsible for saving in most households, savings
products should be designed with their realities in mind.
Women save small amounts on a daily or weekly basis. They
like the money to be collected from them and they like to
save for specific goals. Research has shown that when
people have a goal to save for, they are more likely to
products for particular life cycle events (goals) would
include regular, small deposits over a fixed period of time,
such as 12 months to pay for school fees, 36 months to
provide collateral for a home improvement loan or 120 months
for old age. The latter can be combined with insurance so
that the ultimate lump sum goal is guaranteed for designated
beneficiaries if the saver dies before maturity.
products that cater to lifecycle needs such as housing (home
improvement loans) are a vital part of the product mix.
Some microfinance providers such as Grameen have mandated
that the woman’s name be on the property title in order to
receive a loan. The extent of the need for this depends on
the cultural context and the ability to do it
cost-effectively depends on the legal context. When
offering home improvement loans, this should be considered.
assessment by credit officers tends to look more at flows of
money than at stocks. This became evident when we examined
Florentina’s borrowing history in particular. We found that
the credit officer had underestimated the value of her
properties and the income that flowed from them. This led
to an unnecessary rationing of credit. A larger loan, made
available sooner in her asset-building trajectory, could
have boosted her asset creation. Microfinance providers
need to ensure that credit officers are adequately trained.
loans for household durables are valued by women,
particularly if, like washing machines and gas stoves, they
As with all
products designed for the poor or the rich, market research
is an absolute prerequisite. Applying a gender lens to this
research is also vital if products are to achieve optimum
outcomes. For example, research in East Africa has shown
that upon the death of a husband, a woman can lose assets
that were jointly held with her husband to her husband’s
family. In this cultural context, in order to ensure
allocation of the payout to women:
The assets must be in the woman’s name.
Women must be designated as beneficiaries.
Payouts should be made directly to a woman’s account.
Strategies for Financial Services
To become the financial services provider of choice for
women, institutions have to align their entire team around
serving the woman customer. Customer research should be shared
with the team to explain gender roles and responsibilities,
aspirations, goals, and survival strategies. The team needs to
be sensitized to the fact that there are different market
segments among low-income people and needs to be aware of
stereotypes about women and men’s abilities to manage a
business, to borrow and to make financial decisions.
financial services, access to affordable childcare would be
the single most important lever in helping women to grow
their businesses. The microenterprise sector, civil society,
governments and donors should work to develop a low-cost
childcare business model that low-income women can own and
that low-income children can attend. Women business owners
would need to be supported by training and would be able to
purchase materials with loans. Quality control would need to
be carried out by a supporting agency.
interviewees in this study had very limited visions for the
development of their businesses. Microfinance providers
could form strategic alliances with specialized business
development service providers (BDS) to enable clients build
up their capacity. Some microfinance providers offer
training themselves, as does ADOPEM.
President for Technical Assistance and Programs at Women’s World
Banking. Excerpted from
STUDY: The Capacity of Poor Women to Grow Their Businesses in
the Dominican Republic, Copyright 2006, Women’s World Banking
exchange rate at the beginning of 2003 was $1 = 22 RD.
This rate was used for the remainder of this report.
In May 2002, when this research was conducted, the
Dominican Republic had enjoyed a buoyant property market
for several years. Thus, many interviewees chose to
invest in housing, given its likely return. The
macroeconomic decline set in motion by the collapse of
Bank BanInter in May 2003 changed this strategy.
Many couples choose not to get married formally. If they
split up, the female partner is usually left with the
house so that she can raise the children in it.
This section was complemented by research conducted by
WWB into the demand for savings conducted among ADOPEM’s
borrowers in March 2003.
This is an interesting feature of some Dominican SANES,
though not all, i.e., that the SAN organizer takes the
first payout without contributing anything to the SAN
itself. Thus, organizing SANES can be a lucrative
Many MFIs around the world integrate training into group
meetings. This should be optional for borrowers.
An inexpensive alternative to passbook accounts are
plastic cards with the account number printed on them.
Savers can go into a branch and ask the teller to print
out balances and previous transactions.
An additional idea is ‘matched’ savings accounts.
Increasingly common in developed economies (e.g., the
US, Canada, the UK, Singapore), the central idea of
these products is to encourage savings toward specific
asset accumulation goals through matching the amount
saved. Matching funds are supplied either by government,
donors or the private sector. The match rate would be
determined by the funder, e.g., 5:1 or 2:1. Depositors
are free to deposit more than the minimum, but funders
may limit their matches.
In the Dominican Republic this did not seem to be an
issue since women tended to be left the family home upon
splitting up with their male partners. In other contexts
such as Morocco, upon divorce women have a very limited
chance of getting the family home and are left
vulnerable as a result. Furthermore, research in
Southern India found that the rate of domestic violence
decreased from 45 percent of married couples to 10
percent when the family home was in the wife’s name. By
contrast, the fact that the wife was earning an income
had no effect on the incidence of domestic abuse.
Since this research, ADOPEM has introduced home
Spandana, a microfinance institution located in Andhra
Pradesh in India, figured out a solution to save women
from walking three hours each day to get fire wood. The
institution negotiated with a manufacturer of two-ring
gas stoves to get them to reduce the price of each stove
by 50 percent and then negotiated a discount with the
gas company to get the stoves connect to gas. Borrowers
were offered a loan to pay for both the stove and the
gas connection. Spandana reported that 60,000 women had
signed up for the package within six months.
Reducing Vulnerability: The Demand for Microinsurance.
Journal of International Development, 17, Pages 37-474,