By Watipaso Mzungu:
In most communities, women are perceived as the face and main players in village savings and loan associations (VSLAs)
Men are always on the background waiting to take control of the resources mobilised by women.
VSLA groups help members save regularly in small and flexible amounts, access loans to invest in their businesses or pay for big expenses like agricultural inputs, emergency support through a basic insurance fund, access periodic lump sums for school fees, farm activities or other home expenses like repairs and renovations.
However, a 2016 gender analysis of savings groups by Christian Aid found that women only act as proxy members for their husbands, who contribute to shares and claim the dividends.
Similarly, research by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Malawi found that most men assumed that they could benefit indirectly via their wives’ membership or sent their wives to represent family interests.
The two studies found that negative perceptions of men’s credit-worthiness lead some women to self-select as the proxy member.
That women are more likely to repay a loan than men is a common assumption in the microfinance industry.
The belief that men may fail to repay loans also prevails among some female-only savings group members.
Such attitudes can generate resentment among men, both discouraging their own participation and leading them to be unsupportive of women’s participation.
Another study observed that particularly vulnerable to financial exclusion are young men, men living in poor households, men with disability, men living with HIV, male smallholder farmers and men that have been forcibly displaced.
The study found that, like women, men in these underserved segments could experience great benefit from belonging to a savings group.
“Supporting their participation would make an important contribution towards achieving universal financial inclusion,” it said.
But Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (MUSCCO), which is a stronger advocate for gender equality, has vowed to change this facet of VSLAs.
The union believes that promoting men’s equitable access to savings groups can ensure that underserved men and women are reached with basic financial services.
To address this challenge, with financial support from Financial Access for Rural Markets and Social Enterprises (Farmse), Muscco has embarked on an initiative aimed at promoting male participation in VSLAs.
Muscco Head of Cooperative Development and Projects Leroy Banda said promoting male involvement in village savings groups was key to supporting universal financial inclusion.
Banda pointed out that majority of rural populace does not appreciate banking services in developing countries, thus such population segments can benefit from the financial services offered by savings groups.
Secondly, for sustained gender equality, women empowerment alone cannot amount to wholesome gender equity.
In a country like Malawi, where banking services remain confined to urban settings, VSLA groups have proven to be a powerful tool for promoting the economic participation of both men and women.
Thus, Banda believes that active and purposeful recruitment of men into VSL groups can contribute to universal financial inclusion.
VSLA groups have the potential to serve both men and women, particularly in rural areas underserved by financial institutions with safe, convenient, low cost access to savings, credit and insurance.
It is against this background that Muscco decided to initiate the project to ensure that men are integrated and are actively participate in these savings groups.
The initiative is gaining ground in Ntcheu and other districts where Muscco is implementing the project.
A recent tour to Ntcheu District established that a good percentage of men have joined savings and credit groups or are forming their own groups altogether, where they are saving and accessing loans.
Anthony Pindani is one of the male beneficiaries of the project.
Pindani, who is aged 40, is of a member of Titukulane VSLA in Group Village Head (GVH) Ben- Tchauya, of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kwataine, in Dedza.
In February 2020, he joined other 16 people in forming a new VSLA.
By December 2020, the group shared proceeds of the first cycle of their VSLA, in which Pindani went away with funds amounting to K170, 000.00.
“Through savings and borrowing practice, I have managed to buy a motorbike and I am operating kabaza business,” he narrated to the field officer who visited him.
“I am earning not less than K10, 000. 00 a day through this business and my life has really changed economically,” he mused.
Titukulane VSLA has a total membership of 19 composed of 11 males and eight females.
Farmse Communication and Knowledge Learning Specialist Golie Nyirenda said at the core of the project is the idea to reduce poverty, improve livelihoods and enhance the resilience of rural households on a sustainable basis.