The women of the developing world are gaining a measure of economic autonomy as perceptions of their role in emerging economies change. Recently, international organizations and banks have moved to increase funding to women-led small businesses and farming projects. The motivation has less to do with sexual politics than the economic reality that women do much of the work in the developing world. A World Bank study found that women head half the households in sub-Saharan Africa, while women in the villages of Cameroon work twice as many hours per week than men. Their earnings are more likely than men’s to be used for the health and education of the next generation. Women are also more likely to repay loans and are less prone to waste development money.
In the developing world’s the vast “informal sector,” many so-called microenterprises, ranging from street vendors to one-person apparel makers are run by women. The relatively new industry of microlending is thriving. Microlenders in the developing world encourage poor women to cross-guarantee each others’ loans, with the resulting peer pressure keeping default rates to a minimum. Marriages between international groups and grassroots groups help get the money in the hands of women.
Sources: “Africa’s Women Go to Work,” The Economist, January 13, 2001, pp.43-44; Tim Carrington, “Gender Economics: In Developing World, International Lenders Are Targeting Women,” The Wall Street Journal, June 22, 1994, A1