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1.0 Background to the study
Microfinance is the provision of a broad range of financial services to poor low-income households and micro enterprises (Amin and Pebley, 1994). Research interest in the issue of access to microfinance particularly by women has been on a rising trend in recent times. Bennet and Goldberg (1993) asserted that in developing economies, low-income women are often victims of societal suppression and abuse; while their counterparts in developed economies are victims of lending discrimination. It is therefore argued that lending to women may help empower them economically and socially.
The heightened interest in the gender dimension of microfinance in recent times stems from the fact that women are often seen as instruments for societal change and development and as such, empowering them may be of great benefit to society. Access to credit by women has therefore become the main subject of many global and regional conferences, seminars and workshops. Experts have widely acknowledged the substantial contribution of small and micro enterprises (of which women participation constitute larger percentage) to the socio-economic development of a nation, therefore the need to support them to grow. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that, the most important goal, which every society in the contemporary world has set for itself, is to empower its women to be able to afford basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter; as well as be part of decision making in the home and community. In many societies in Africa, which Nigeria is no exception, women are not fully integrated into the socio-
economic development process (Meyer, 1992) and one of the possible implications is that, these societies are deprived of their full utilization of their human resource capabilities and potentials. Education, in its true sense brings some level of empowerment and once a woman is empowered it will subsequently lead to a reduction in poverty in various societies, education helps women to contribute meaningfully to development through participation in decision making which has been perceived to be the prerogative of men.
In an effort to promote women empowerment, the U.N general assembly in 1974 passed a resolution emphasizing the priorities of women, their role and participation in socio-economic development and the need to integrate them fully into the development agenda. Subsequently, many world conferences like the first Women’s conference in Mexico City in 1975, and others at regional levels have been held and continued to be held. All these conferences aimed at developing and emphasizing strategies for the advancement of women so as to overcome the obstacles that women in general encounter in trying to achieve equality, peace, respect and a say in the development of lives through sustaining their income-generating activities to enhance their economic power.
In developing countries, many governments, in collaboration with NGO’s have over the years implemented programmes aimed at empowering women economically and socially. One NGO that has been in the forefront of championing the socio-economic empowerment of women is Nsehe Micro Finance Ltd. The company, which commenced operations in Nigeria in the year 2004, has accepted the challenge of helping to improve the status and contribution of women in the nation’s
socio-economic development through the provision of small and micro-credit. This study therefore seeks to assess the contribution of microfinance to the socio-economic empowerment of women, with a focus on NSEHE MICRO FINANCE microfinance programme.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
Traditionally, socio-cultural beliefs and other impediments have long limited women’s participation in the economy and their access to resources for development especially in developing countries. However, there is a general consensus that in order for women to play a meaningful role in economic development, they must be empowered both at the economic and social level. One way of empowering women is to make credit easily accessible to them to finance their small and micro enterprises. In an attempt to realize this objective, a plethora of policies were implemented by various governments in collaboration with other stakeholders aimed at helping women access funds to expand their businesses. Despite, the efforts made by the government, policy makers, NGOs and financial institutions in extending financial services to micro enterprises (of which the participation of women is greatest), majority of women still faced enormous challenges in trying to access funds for their enterprises. Constraints to microfinance by women in small and micro enterprises can be attributed to a number of reasons such as low return activities undertaken by women coupled with heavy domestic workloads; channeling their low incomes or returns to support the up-keep of the home; high rate of illiteracy among women, their limited roles in household decision-making among others. Moreover, the formal financial institutions consider lending to small businesses as a very time consuming and a costly venture since microenterprises lack proper accounting procedures and owners frequently mix their business and personal finances, so their
financial statements are often unreliable. Without access to formal financial service, most microenterprises are compelled to raise greater percentage of their start-up capital through their own internal savings and from family members but these are always inadequate. This study therefore intends to explore the contribution of microfinance to the socio-economic empowerment of women and the measures that can be taken to make credit easily accessible to them.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The general objective of the study is to investigate the effect of microfinance on the socio-economic empowerment of women.
1. To examine the socio-economic characteristics of NSEHE MICRO FINANCE microfinance programme
2. To investigate the effect of microfinance on the performance of microenterprises.
3. To examine the effect of microfinance on socio-economic empowerment of women.
1.3 Research Questions
The research questions of the study are as follows;
1. What are the socio-economic characteristics of NSEHE MICRO FINANCE microfinance programme?
2. What is the effect of microfinance on the performance of microenterprises?
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