Anvi Ton | Senior Associate of Financial Empowerment
On one glorious autumn day, I had the chance to meet with a visiting professor from Cornell University with a Ph.D. from Harvard in Sociology. One topic led to another and we eventually landed on the subject of her current research—microfinance. I didn’t record our conversation, but I think the following “reenactment” captures the gist of it:
Me: Thank you for joining me today. I didn’t have a chance to attend your talk, but do you think you could explain a little more about your research on micro finance?
Professor P: Of course! A lot of research has already been done on the financial impact of microfinance, so I wanted to study the phenomenon from a different angle—I wanted to study the cultural effects that microcredit groups have had in rural parts of India. I found that, aside from financial empowerment, women in India felt empowered to play a greater role in their own communities. They formed their own close-knit civic groups and some even started to take action against the injustices they saw.
Me: What types of injustices did they take action against? Can you tell me more about what they did?
Professor P: One example that comes to mind has to do with a young lady being beaten by her husband. Another woman saw this and quickly rallied the community women to help. They then all marched up to the couple’s house and put an end to the domestic violence––it was group solidarity at its finest. This is especially incredible considering how many of the women (with a bit of embarrassment) even admitted that they had not even known their own neighbors very well prior to their involvement with the microcredit group. Now look at them!
Me: Wow. That’s great that these women are all working together and supporting each other! Considering that patriarchy is still heavily-embedded in Indian culture, how do the men feel about the microcredit groups?
Professor P: A lot of them were hesitant at first—they did not want their wives to leave the house for extended periods of time. In fact, a lot of the women had to sneak out of the house at first in order to attend the microcredit meetings. However, as time passed and more women became involved, I think the men slowly came to accept the existence of the groups . . . and the fact that they couldn’t really stop all the women from partaking in them. Although it should be noted that a lot of the men also saw the value in having their wives learn about money management––the microcredit groups provided a way for their wives to take part in the household’s finances, as well as a way for the women to potentially bring in extra income.
Me: What would you say was one of the most inspiring things you learned about while you were there?
Professor P: The greatest thing I saw was the way that the institution of microcredit empowered the women to unite and take action in areas of their lives they never would have thought to before. I was especially excited to hear about how this “women’s empowerment movement” might be affecting the way their kids think. For instance, there was one woman who talked about how her son used to be so furious – so angry – that she wasn’t home to feed him because she was off participating in one of the microcredit meetings. Even though she had always prepared food for him before she left, he used to refuse to eat it until she came home and fed him. Now whenever he sees that she’s home instead of at a group meeting, he says: “Mom, what are you still doing at home? You’re going to be late to the meeting! You need to leave now!” This is a stark difference to how he reacted before—it is truly a testament to how the later generation’s view on the role of women might be changing. I’m excited to do follow-up research about this in the future.
Me: Do you have any advice for our JIFFI team moving forward?
Professor P: I would definitely consider trying to create a more cohesive network between your JIFFI clients—it might be beneficial for them to be able to talk and connect to each other, especially if they find themselves in similar situations. That being said, this might be a little more feasible to do with the clients in your Financial Empowerment classes—they would actually be able to see each other on a consistent basis and would (presumably) all have a desire to learn from/communicate with each other. Needless to say, I don’t think you guys should underestimate the power of community.
Unfortunately, I only had about an hour to talk to her, and our conversation ended rather abruptly as we realized we had gone overtime. Even so, Professor P. offered a wealth of information about microfinance, as well as lot of great ideas on how to improve the JIFFI network—ideas that I’m excited to share with the rest of the team!
Now if only I hadn’t needed to run off to my Accounting class, I could have learned a lot more from her…Darn that Accounting class!
Oh well, until next time…
Anvi is a sophomore studying finance and sociology. Her interests outside of JIFFI include geocaching and sleeping.