To be powerful change agents, women must first overcome their greatest obstacle: exclusion.
Too often, women are barred from the tools and resources they need to thrive. They are kept apart from the very systems that will allow them to ignite lasting, generational change.
At Opportunity International, we serve women whose lives have been defined by exclusion. We provide women with access to the formal economy, to much-needed tools and training and to financial services and education. In so doing, we connect women to the world around them, giving them possibilities that were previously unimaginable and unattainable. We know that women, when given the opportunity, will transform their lives, their children’s futures and their communities.
Sustainable Development Goal #5: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls."
Girls drop out of school at higher rates than boys, often moving immediately into early marriages and raising children of their own. Without the ability to finish their educations, girls are disadvantaged when it comes to finding work, navigating the formal economy and exercising their decision-making abilities. Globally, 130 million girls are not in school, and 49.5 million—or almost 40% of all girls not attending school—live in in sub-Saharan Africa1.
If girls had a secondary school education, there would be:
- Two-thirds fewer child marriages
- 59% fewer teenage pregnancies
- Half as many child deaths
- Universal declines in gender wage gaps
- Greatly reduced maternal mortality, childhood mortality and childhood stunting
- Later marriages and smaller family sizes2
Opportunity makes it possible for more girls to go to—and stay in—school through our Education Finance program. We invest in families to help them keep all of their children in school, even when incomes are inconsistent or a parent passes away. And we empower school proprietors to access the credit they need to make improvements to their schools, including purchasing school supplies, hiring and training more teachers and building gender-separate bathrooms. So far, Opportunity has helped 2 million children access a quality education.
Sustainable Development Goal #4: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”
Women are regularly excluded from the formal economy, making it difficult for them to earn money, access financial services and plan for the future. Only 57% of women have bank accounts, compared to 64% of men worldwide—and women living on less than $2 a day are 28% less likely to have an account than men with the same socio economic status3. Nearly 70% of women-owned small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are underserved in terms of access to credit, amounting to a $260-$320 billion credit gap4. Women are 26% less likely to be employed than men, and earn 35% less than men for equal work in sub-Saharan Africa, all while doing two to five times more unpaid work than men5.
When women can access the formal economy, they not only increase their own financial independence and job security, but they also support and transform their families and entire economies. Gender equality is associated with higher per-capita income, as well as faster economic growth and stronger national competitiveness. Exact estimates vary, but one study by McKinsey Global Institute estimates that major advances in gender equity could result in a 26% boost to annual global output by 20256. Perhaps even more importantly, women reinvest most of their incomes into their families7, which improves children’s nutrition, health and school attendance.
Opportunity is proud to provide hardworking women entrepreneurs with access to savings accounts and small loans, often through Trust Groups, which provide them with a network of support to earn a stable income and improve their livelihoods. In addition, entrepreneurs receive valuable financial training, equipping women with the skills they need to better manage their businesses and make wise financial choices for their families.
Sustainable Development Goal #1: "End poverty in all its forms everywhere."
Women are 14% less likely than men to own a mobile phone—meaning that 200 million fewer women than men own mobile phones8. Urban men are often the first adaptors of new technologies in emerging markets, creating an widening gender gap even though mobile technology plays a critical role for those living in rural regions. In particular, rural entrepreneurs use mobile devices to access financial services and connect with the broader economy—meaning that a phone is more than just a conversation tool, it’s an entry point to the world.
When people have and use mobile phones, they can connect to the wider world—and to a suite of tools and services to grow their businesses. Mobile banking, for example, allows rural clients to make payments and transactions via their mobile devices instead of spending valuable time traveling to a brick-and-mortar bank. Instead of carrying large sums of cash to deposit, clients can make secure transactions right from their phones, reducing the safety risks and opportunity costs associated with traveling to and from the bank to make deposits or transactions. In addition, phones can be used to deliver essential information about weather and agriculture, education and health services. Because women are often responsible for managing the household and childcare in addition to work, particularly in rural regions, mobile banking tools are especially convenient and beneficial for women to grow their businesses while saving valuable time.
Opportunity is leveraging and increasing access to technology so that even the most rural women can be a part of the global economy. Through our mobile banking program, we are connecting entrepreneurs with the broader economy and giving them the ability to conduct transactions directly from their phones. We are building and improving the digital tools and platforms women need to learn, save, make payments and grow their businesses.
Women in developing communities face systemic, cultural and legal barriers, which means they are disproportionately excluded from accessing essential networks and relationships. Farmers in particular need connections to suppliers of quality inputs like seed and fertilizer, experts who provide agricultural education and skills training and off-takers who purchase crops at fair market value. Without these relationships, women smallholder farmers produce 20-30% less than their male counterparts9. Without adequate farm production, populations struggle with hunger and malnutrition. In the developing world, nearly 13% of the population is undernourished. In sub-Saharan Africa, that number is as high as 23%, even among farmers10.
Social capital—the resources available in and through personal business networks—is essential for a family to build a more secure future. If all women farmers had access to the same resources as men, they could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million11. When they have the ability to access quality inputs and fair markets, farmers are able to grow from subsistence to commercial agriculture, feed their families, educate their children and transform their communities.
Opportunity provides women with equal access to farming inputs and agricultural tools through our Agriculture Finance program. The program 1) offers women farmers financial services tailored around planting and harvest seasons to help them manage their household cash flows year-round, 2) teaches farmers agricultural techniques and financial skills so they can increase production and better utilize available resources and 3) engages entire value chains to foster and improve relationships with both buyers and suppliers.
Sustainable Development Goal 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”
Without a good education or adequate knowledge of healthy practices, women and girls are at high risk for developing life-threatening illnesses and infections related to menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. Children born to uneducated mothers are at a higher risk for developing illnesses that threaten their wellbeing, such as malaria and pneumonia. And as girls enter adolescence, they regularly leave school because of a lack of access to sanitation products and gender-separate facilities, curtailing the education that would enable them to establish healthier, secure foundations for their futures. In sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, only half of pregnant women receive adequate care during childbirth12. And health conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, combined with HIV/AIDS, are the leading causes of death among young women aged 15-29 in developing regions13.
Health, sanitation and education are all inextricably linked. Women and girls lead healthier, more productive lives if they complete their educations, but in order to do so, girls must have access to the healthcare and sanitation facilities they need to stay in school. Without private bathroom facilities at school, many adolescent girls miss several days of school each month, causing them to fall behind their male peers. If all girls completed primary education, there would be 15% fewer child deaths, 1.7 million would be saved from stunting and malnutrition, 10% fewer girls would become pregnant before they turn 17 in sub-Saharan Africa and West Asia, there would be 14% fewer child marriages and maternal mortality would fall 66%14. Once these girls have their own children, healthy and educated mothers are more prepared to prevent common causes of death for children under five, saving an estimated three million lives per year15.
When women are healthy and know how to prevent infection and disease, they can spend more time growing their businesses and earning an income to end the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.
Opportunity partners with community health organizations like Healing Fields in India to provide direct health training and resources to women in poor communities. By equipping women to care for their own health, their children’s wellbeing and the basic medical needs of their neighbors, these partnerships lead to healthier families and communities raising a generation of healthier children.
In addition, Opportunity’s EduFinance initiative provides School Improvement loans to school proprietors so that they can build private bathrooms for girls and provide clean, running water to students. Through education and partnerships, Opportunity is working toward Sustainable Development Goal #3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages,” and empowering the next generation of girls to live healthier lives so that they can create bright, successful futures for themselves and their future families.
3 United Nations, 2016. “Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” http://www.womenseconomicempowerment.org/assets/reports/UNWomen%20Full%20Report.pdf
4 Women’s World Banking, 2015. “Women’s Financial Inclusion: A Driver for Global Growth.” http://www.womensworldbanking.org/publications/womens-financial-inclusion-driver-global-growth/
5 United Nations, 2016. “Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” http://www.womenseconomicempowerment.org/assets/reports/UNWomen%20Full%20Report.pdf
6 United Nations, 2016. “Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” http://www.womenseconomicempowerment.org/assets/reports/UNWomen%20Full%20Report.pdf
8 United Nations, 2016. “Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” http://www.womenseconomicempowerment.org/assets/reports/UNWomen%20Full%20Report.pdf
9 FAO, 2011. “Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development”
11 FAO, 2011. “Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development”
12 UN Economic & Social Affairs, 2015. “The World’s Women 2015”
13 UN Economic & Social Affairs, 2015. “The World’s Women 2015”
15 UNESCO, 2013. “Education Transforms Lives.” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002231/223115E.pdf