The empowerment of women is vital to any country's economic development – and, in the current environment of economic fear and doubt, microfinance could have a major role to play in poverty alleviation and empowerment.
Microfinance provider Oikocredit has recently conducted a survey in Bulgaria, Kenya, Peru and the Philippines, examining the notion of fair financing and women empowerment. The study sought to understand microfinance and its relevance for small entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Initial results show no matter where people are from, or what they do, the empowerment of women is a vital consequence of fair finance.
In the context of microfinance, the report summarises women empowerment as the "progress of women in their ability to make choices and become self-reliant, facilitated by the availability of microfinance".
Dutch minister for development Bert Koenders says empowerment of women is at the heart of development.
"Economic empowerment and women's rights are interdependent. Each reinforces the other," he says. "By making use of their economic skills and qualifications, we will build a stronger foundation for long-term economic growth and contribute to greater equality between men and women."
Oikocredit board president Shobha Arole says the study is the first step towards ensuring the organization's contribution to women empowerment through its field work.
"A lack of access to basic education, economic and property rights means 70% of the world's poor are female," Dr Arole says. "These are the groups who are marginalised, victims of violence and vulnerable in every sense of the word."
With this inequality, few women have the opportunity to take their first steps out of poverty. However, Oikocredit sees the empowerment of women as fundamental in achieving sustainable development and alleviating poverty on an individual, family and community level.
Furthermore, with economic empowerment comes social empowerment. Access to credit gives women confidence, skills, respect and social status.