Micro financing empowers women and changes lives in Togo

The women in a coastal village on the Togo-Benin border are doing what they are known for – singing and dancing. But as the soothing tones and rhythms give way to the sounds of coins being dropped into a bowl, it becomes clear there is something else afoot.

The circle of brightly clad women soon put their celebrations aside and get down to the business of banking. The amounts of money being borrowed and paid back here may seem small, but for these Togolese women each tiny contribution to the ‘bank’ helps.

Transactions are recorded under the women’s watchful eyes, and the money is kept under lock and key for when they need it most.

Micro-financing – the lending small amounts of money to help the poor, particularly marginalized women – has given many people a chance to get out of poverty and has become a novel way of getting credit to parts of the economy hungry for capital.

Credit where credit is due

Microcredit projects are designed to allow women to have money, which allows them then to make choices about their children’s education and their children’s health care,” says UNICEF representative in Togo Una McCauley.

The microcredit system is helping to keep the women’s families fed, clothed and on their feet. Mainly, it is allowing women like widow Vigoumide Ahouagbe to grow their small businesses without waiting to make a profit first. Ms. Ahouagbe can now boast several goats and pigs, a sign of wealth in this area of West Africa.

“What is different now with the microcredit is that I can buy the raw products immediately so I can do more business quicker,” she says.

Thanks to the microcredit project, more and more of the poorest children – including Ms. Ahouagbe’s daughter – are going to school since their mothers can now pay school fees.

A newfound respect

At Attiso Condji, another village, Francoise Kayi Afanoue lifts a heavy bowl of freshly milled cassava onto her head and walks from the shade of a mud hut out into the bright sun.

The hut houses a new mill, built by the village women with the profits from their businesses. It has helped speed up the time the women spend milling cassava, the staple diet in much of the region, and ensure a constant supply of cooked grain to sell and nourish their families.

With a sick husband unable to work, Ms. Afanoue puts everything into her work – carrying huge weights, slaving over a hot fire and sieving through rough grain. She toils until night, afterwards heading home to begin her housework. However, all her hard work has paid off. She has managed to send her son to university because of the project, earning herself an elevated status amongst villagers.

“I am really happy now because it has given me the respect of the whole village,” she says.

Women’s economic power

For the first time in their lives, women have begun to realize financial freedom, and that is shaking up this male-dominated rural society. Coordinator Vincent Kome Liggie of Hotsi, the UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that runs the microcredit project, has witnessed the changes firsthand.

“In the beginning the men were a little jealous, but with time they changed and recognized that it was a good thing,” he says.

“They do the same as the women now – they form associations and apply for microcredit now. Today, to have economic power is to have the power. Now in the village, the women have the power. They have the economic power.”

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