Ruth Orbach: Financial Inclusion for Adolescent Girls – Strategic Insights from Burundi

By Ruth Orbach, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at CARE Canada

Using examples from Burundi, CARE’s POWER Africa (Promoting Opportunities for Women's Economic Empowerment in Rural Africa) team shares how innovative, community-led conflict resolution creates a foundation for sustainable and inclusive gender equality, contributing to social and financial advancement of the entire community.

How Charlotte Became a Bicycle-Taxi Driver

In 2014, Charlotte joined her local VSLA group. A few months later, the Abatangamucho group ran a gender equality training session for men in the community. Trainers spoke about the sharing of gender specific roles and responsibilities. This gave Charlotte an idea: she could become a bicycle-taxi driver, a profession typically reserved for male members of society. At first the community thought she was crazy. Women did not want to ride with her, but some men were proud to be driven by a girl. The other boys assumed that she would not last longer than a few weeks. They teased her, also saying that no man would want to marry a girl with bigger muscles than him. Her friends told her to quit, saying that she would never be able to marry. After a year of work, women began to approach Charlotte to ask her to teach them how to become taxi drivers. She is now training 4 women and 3 girls to carry on the business. Women and girls are proud to be driven by another woman and ride with men or boys only when female drivers are not available. Such a loyal customer base makes the business very profitable.

Charlotte, Sakinyinya Colline, Kayanza Province, Burundi

Working with Adolescent Girls in Burundi

Gender remains one of the most fundamental sources of inequality and marginalization in the world today. Unequal division of labor, early marriage and child bearing, and limited control and access to resources perpetuate gender norms and barriers.

In Burundi, POWER Africa targets adolescent girls both because of their vulnerability and their potential within their communities. In a society struggling to overcome poverty, conflict, violence and societal disintegration, adolescent girls face the double vulnerability of being young and of being female. They face high rates of sexual exploitation, asset seizure and mistreatment by brothers and other boys in their communities.

To better understand the links between gender barriers and financial inclusion, POWER Africa has developed a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system. Through community based programming and data collection, we were able to identify and work to mitigate key gender barriers to financial services and activities.

Lessons Learned

Using participatory videos, which are highly effective tools to engage and mobilize people to implement their own form of sustainable development based on local need, and appreciative inquiry methods, the CARE Burundi team facilitated conversations with groups of 10-12 girls, boys, and parents. In discussing enabling factors, adolescent girls identified skills, environmental factors, and attributes of the VSLA and the POWER project that facilitated their success.

Support from parents and other community members is particularly important. Without parental encouragement and permission, girls struggle to continue their participation in their VSLA groups, as managing household responsibilities and attending schools often translates into girls being forced to abandon their groups. Parents are also usually the most reliable source for girls to access funds, allowing them to save in their VSLA groups. Without this initial stimulus, girls face great difficulties in raising the fees to fund group participation and income generation activity development.

Saving money and accessing small amounts of credit is crucial for adolescent girls, and is underpinned by the financial education, life skills, and gender training girls receive through their VSLA groups.

The security of assets, however, remains a challenge.

Through the participatory video, we learned that brothers of group members often pose the strongest threat to girls’ control over their assets. When girls get married, brothers determine which assets are transferred to their sisters in their new households. It is common for boys to take some or all of the productive assets that girls buy with their VSLA earnings. Due to this, girls are eager to buy land, as plots can be registered with the commune and therefore legally belong to them.

From Insights to Solutions to Results

Insights from the participatory videos and POWER Africa’s regular monitoring data contributed to our community–centered approach on mitigating negative effects of gender norms on women’s economic empowerment.

  • Abatangamucho in Burundi, a program that works with men to train and sensitize men and boys, provides a platform for discussion around importance of gender equality. Male champions promote division of labor and shared decision-making by encouraging their neighbors and friends to adopt tasks typically reserved for women. Communities with a strong Abatangamucho presence are more likely to offer opportunities for adolescent girls, parents are more supportive of girls, and community members are more open to girls’ integration and participation in business. This has yielded strong results: 93% of members in the third year of programming actively contracted credit over a year. 85.8% of members have invested in valuable productive assets, with 6.1% purchasing plots of land. Notably, 100% of VSLA members currently report running a business, with 44% running multiple activities at once.
  • With increased income generation, girls have cited an urgent need for access to credit from banks to protect their profits, resources and assets. CARE Burundi began the first linkage pilot for mature VSLA groups in the third quarter of year 3 of POWER Africa. Linkage currently focuses on connecting groups and members to saving accounts, through a partnership with KCB, with the development of credit products beginning in subsequent years. The linkage has been successful with 16.6% of groups are connected to KCB through saving accounts.


What Comes Next?

Using the lessons from the participatory video, supplemented with monitoring data, we are continuing to adapt and scale up programming to better reach and serve the needs of adolescent girls.

  1. Scale up of linkage. The demand for linkage remains high. This is evidenced by the high rate of individual account opening among VSLA members. 13.1% of girls participating in POWER Africa have opened their own bank account and are keen to access credit, both individually and through their groups. Working with KCB, POWER Africa will scale up linkage to meet this demand, adapting financial products and services to best fit the needs of adolescent girls in VSLA.
  2. Continued sensitization of parents and boys around girls’ roles in their communities. The CARE team will expand on its current sensitization activities by further engaging Abatangamucho male change agents to speak with boys and men to promote girls’ integration and participation in VSLA and public life. This should target a redress of the control inequalities between girls and boys

Editor's Note:


This article first appeared on The SEEP Network blog as part of the WEE Global Learning Forum Series, and is reproduced with permission.

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