Female Empowerment through Village Savings and Loan Associations in Rwanda
Abstract: The village-based microfinance approach Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) has been implemented in developing countries for three decades, and is found to be an effective tool in alleviating poverty and facilitating access to financial services in rural areas. This study, done in collaboration with Vi Agroforestry, aimed to investigate the impact of VSLA activities on female empowerment in Rwanda, and more specifically, how women's access to and control over assets have been affected by VSLA participation. The term 'female empowerment' refers to the process by which women gain control and power over their own life situations and their ability to make strategic choices, that is, the capacity to turn choices into desired actions and outcomes. A qualitative methodology has been used, where the main data collection consisted of six individual interviews with VSLA staff responsible for implementing, monitoring and evaluating VSLA groups in six different districts, and two focus group interviews with female VSLA participants in two different districts, carried out during April and May 2021. The findings show that VSLA participation significantly accelerates the process of female empowerment in both household and community domains for women in Rwanda and that VSLA is an efficient first step in moving from a marginalised position in the society. However, women are still in many cases restricted from claiming all potential benefits from VSLA participation by structures that dictate normative gender roles and power structures. The findings highlight the importance of continued gender-related and financial training in order to further increase female access to and control over resources through VSLAs.
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