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Holistic Change for Women: Venezuela and Banco de la Mujer » Women's Courage

Holistic Change for Women: Venezuela and Banco de la Mujer

February 23rd, 2012 by isabelle Leave a reply »

This week we will look at an absolutely incredible intervention that attacks the feminization poverty intelligently and compassionately. The Banco de la Mujer, or Banmujer, of Venezuela aims to empower women not only economically, but also politically and socially. Established on International Women’s Day in 2001, its goal was to target specifically the women who composed seventy percent of Venezuela’s impoverished through state-sponsored micro-credit programs (Embassy). However, Banmujer takes a holistic approach and uses not only financial, but also non-financial programs to make sure women are truly able to empower themselves beyond just material capital (Wagner).

Around the time of Banmujer’s founding, there had been an increasing trend of women in Venezuela’s work force. From 1990 to 2002, the percentage of employed women in Venezuela rose from 35.6% to 81.2%. While this is a vast improvement in terms of women entering the labor market, which as we have discussed is a key to ending the feminization of poverty, women also came to hold majority of informal sector, low-salary jobs. By 1998, 35% of women occupied informal sector jobs. Coupled with the fact that most government attempts to mitigate unemployment benefited men, Banmujer was an essential intervention for women. (Wagner)

Let us first look at financial empowerment through Banmujer. Financial help through Banmujer include “low-interest loans called micro-credits, consultancy in forming and developing projects, administrative training, and follow-up on the investments” (Wagner). By coupling financial education with resources, the ultimate goal is to help women establish sustainable, personal businesses. Unique to the Banmujer methodology is the use of promoters, rather than bank offices. Similar to what we have discussed with community health workers, Banmujer had a team of promoters who personally visit Venezuela’s most impoverished communities to discuss the resources and benefits of the bank. This is particularly crucial and commendable given how many communities are challenging to access. The promoters help women to plan promising economic projects and to apply to Banmujer. Should a project be approved, the promoters then help form cooperatives, which are then trained to manage their business plans. The idea of cooperatives is also key to Banmujer’s approach. The bank requires that loans be given to groups consisting of at least five women, or groups of five composed primarily of women. These groups, or cooperatives, are then incentivized to cooperate with one another rather than compete. Project plans are designed by the cooperatives themselves. The promoters do not design the projects, as they want the women to empower themselves. Multiple cooperatives are further encouraged to work together. For example, one group will raise chickens, another will kill them, and a third will sell them. This helps create further community solidarity. (Wagner)

Outside of financial resources and training, the bank also offers various workshops. These include courses on personal development, gender perspective, health, and self-esteem. These can also include workshops on preventing and reporting domestic violence or discrimination. Furthermore, they encourage women’s political participation. In cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Barrio Adentro community health clinics, Banmujer provides workshops in sexual and reproductive rights. Not only does Banmujer want to improve women’s financial situations, but they also want to improve their quality of life. (Wagner)

And Banmujer has had undeniable results. At its ten year anniversary, Banmujer had given 127,614 loans, of which ninety-seven percent were to women. They created 479,643 jobs and organized 16,159 workshops. Of the 207 networks established, 97% involved women. In terms of household changes, 49% became self-sufficient for food, there was a 6% decrease in households where children have to work, and the percentage of households where husbands and wives share earning power increased from 19% to 30%. (Embassy)

As the President of Banmujer Nora Castañeda said, “Banmujer tries to create a level playing field by empowering these women not just economically, but also politically and socially. It’s a social development bank that assesses the viability of projects, and provides training in citizenship, organization, leadership, education, health and self-esteem as well as personal development. We are not building a bank – we are building a different way of life” (Venezuela). As with so many issues we have discussed in this class, the feminization of poverty cannot be attacked simply through one lens. Change cannot simply be economic. As Banmujer demonstrates, phenomena change can occur through such a holistic approach.

Works Cited

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the UK and Ireland. “Fact Sheet: Celebrating 10 Years of Venezuela’s Women’s Development Bank: Banmujer”. 16 February 2011. http://www.embavenez-uk.org/pdf/fs_Banmujer.pdf.

Venezuela Information Office. “Revolutionizing Women’s Roles in Venezuela”. 11 October 2008. http://www.womenandcuba.org/Documents/viowomen.pdf.

Wagner, Sarah. “The Bolivarian Response to the Feminization of Poverty in Venezuela”. 5 February 2005. http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/918.

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1 comment

  1. adrienne says:

    Thank you for sharing a story of such great success! I think it will be exciting, as Banmujer gets older and more established, to see the longer term economic effects in these communities. I think it will be interesting to see the effect of these loans on the social mobility of these women and the transformational change that the Banmujer president describes.

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