Empowering women in Asia to be businesswomen and health leaders

POSTED BY: MarieKelly-Davies

This week I came across this most inspiring blog post by Robert Dunn, the CEO of microfinance not-for-profit Opportunity International Australia about empowering women living in poverty in India to become businesswomen and health leaders. I highly recommend it to you if you are interested in learning more about the way microfinance is used by Opportunity to help women break the crippling inter-generational cycle of poverty themselves:

Empowering women in Asia to be businesswomen and health leaders

Seema Bharti is easily one of the most impressive women you’ll ever meet. Seema is one of the women Opportunity International Australia supporters helped to set up a business with a small loan and receive training as a health leader. Many families in Seema’s village in India live below the poverty line and preventable diseases are a major problem. As with many communities near the River Ganges, the groundwater is contaminated with arsenic, which slowly poisons people. Typhoid and tuberculosis are also major health issues and each year, young children die from diarrhoea caused by E. coli-contaminated water since open defecation is the norm.

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After becoming a health leader, Seema educated her local community about basic health and hygiene practices and discovered her community had been granted funding to build toilets in every household. Despite some resistance, Seema and other women from her village lobbied authorities to build the toilets. They eventually agreed and now everyone in Seema’s village has one. Seema plans to keep creating change for her community. She is now focused on getting a safe source of clean water for the village, so community members are no longer at risk of arsenic poisoning and typhoid. Her husband is helping her and she is proud to consider herself a leader within the community, creating real change for her friends and family.

There are many other women like Seema who initially received small loans from Opportunity to grow businesses and went on to become health leaders and bring about more change in their communities. In 2016 close to 3,600 women in India were trained as health leaders and 4.5 million people benefited from health and hygiene education from health leaders like Seema.

On a recent trip to India, I met some of the 4.2 million loan recipients across Asia who, because of generous gifts from Opportunity supporters, are building small businesses. These women use the income from their businesses to provide their family with nutritious meals, send their children to school and begin to break the cycle of poverty. During our visit, one woman told us how becoming a business woman had earned her the respect of her family and community: “Before I was seen as nothing. I didn’t even understand what my family was saying. I wasn’t spoken to or recognised as worthwhile. Now I understand as I have met other business women and I am respected by all as I contribute financially to my family.” Another woman said: “I have become more financially independent by engaging in various livelihood activities such as selling sanitary napkins and conducting eye checks. This means I don’t have to ask my husband or father-in-law for daily expenses and I can make my own decisions. The men in my family have welcomed this change too.” These sentiments were echoed by several women during my visit and are made possible by the generosity of Opportunity’s supporters. Learn more in Opportunity’s 2016 Annual Review.