This International Women’s Day, we reflect on our ongoing work to foster greater economic empowerment for women in developing countries.
Action On Poverty is proud to mark International Women’s Day 2023 and this year’s theme of embracing equity, by reflecting on its work cultivating change in impoverished communities of Cambodia, Vietnam, Timor Leste and Africa through the transformative Women’s Economic Empowerment Project.
AOP’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Project draws on the necessity of access to equitable financial literacy and education programs in developing countries. Since the project’s inception in 2014, AOP, alongside its local partners, has made significant strides in improving local women’s access to information and training, employment opportunities and financial services.
With a profound understanding of the negative impacts of poor financial literacy in perpetuating poverty, particularly in developing countries, AOP works to financially empower the women of these communities. These are women who are often excluded from financial decision-making and lack the necessary access to financial safety nets needed to break free from cycles of intergenerational poverty.
Speaking to the importance of equitable financial literacy programs globally, but specifically in developing nations, AOP’s International Programs Advisor, Christine Murphy advocates:
“Financial Literacy is fundamental to wellbeing, independence, and autonomy. This International Women’s Day, we recognise that many women still lack access to the institutions, safety nets, and skills they need to escape the cycle of poverty.”
“This year, we acknowledge that embracing equity is more than just providing opportunity. We must recognise the obstacles women face in achieving economic and financial empowerment and take active steps towards breaking down these barriers.”
Channelling Murphy’s words into action as part of AOP’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Project are the Village Savings and Loans Associations Schemes (VSLA) that are part of a larger global Livelihoods Program. The VSLA model has been applied to bolster financial literacy in communities and functions as a self-managed, self-capitalised savings group, providing access to credit and savings services for its members.
In 2022, more than 700 women accessed life-changing financial support through the VSLA including local Vietnamese woman, Huong. After completing a training course on the VSLA model delivered by the AOP Program for microfinance, Huong became a VSLA Community Facilitator and helped establish VSLAs in her own, and an adjacent village.
Proudly highlighting her work to help the women in her village build financial awareness and invest for the future, Huong reflects on the influence that financial education has had on her livelihood, saying:
“Being a Community Facilitator, I feel more developed. I have better confidence to go to new places, meet up with many people, and share new ideas that may help them as much as they have helped myself. I gradually know how to communicate and attract people to open savings groups. I can also explain, give guidance, and actively seek answers for any questions posed by the groups.”
Murphy acknowledges the positive impacts of VSLAs beyond the story of Huong and the need to create opportunities where women in poverty can be nurtured to their fullest potential.
“I am proud to have seen how these village savings and loans groups transform the lives of the women who participate. These groups provide seed capital to establish small businesses, some have gone on to become larger businesses that employ others. Most importantly the groups give poor women support and provide an opportunity for leadership and mentoring, which pays dividends that go far beyond just the financial,” said Murphy.
She adds, “our continued work to bolster financial literacy is crucial for women living in poverty. Financial literacy provides them with choice, freedom, and control over their own lives. It is not about making everyone a financial expert, but rather, empowering women with the skills and knowledge to make financial decisions and have control of their situation.”
Action on Poverty currently works across 14 countries to connect philanthropists, corporates, non-profits, and innovators with developing communities and local NGOs across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.