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MICROCREDIT AND EMPOWERMENT
AMONG WOMEN CLOTH DYERS OF BAMAKO, MALI
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
2007 Maxine Downs
To my deceased parents, Leo and Dorothy Downs,
and the women cloth dyers of Bamako, Mali
First and foremost, I wish to extend my gratitude to the women cloth dyers of Bamako,
Mali, who participated in this study and who openly sharing their lives with me. From them, I
learned bountiful lessons about life and how to share it.
My deepest gratitude to the members of my dissertation committee, Dr. Allan F. Bums, Dr.
Sandra Russo, Dr. Abdoulaye Kane, and Dr. Victoria Rovine, who all gave suggestions along the
way. I owe a special 'thank you' to Maria Grosz-Ngate for her thorough review of the text,
offering comments and suggestions throughout different stages of the development of this
I feel very fortunate to have friends and family who have encouraged me during the
development and writing of this dissertation. Dr. Rosalind Howard, Dr. Zoharah Simmons,
Joyce Downs, Sandra Rattley, Dr. Millie Thayer, Penny Bannerman, Dr. Paige Allison,
Boubabar Diallo, Basja Broches, Dr. Barbara Coulibaly, and Anita Sundaram have been
continuous sources of support from the genesis of this idea to its conclusion. I thank, Lucy Fried
for her keen editing eyes. I would be negligent not to mention Ron and Nancy Dubinsky for
reminding me to practice yoga while weathering the stressful storm of writing this dissertation.
I thank my parents, Leo and Dorothy Downs, to whom I owe so much. I must also thank
Marc Lerner and Pema Chodron for their continuous support in reminding me what is truly
important in life. Likewise words fall short in expressing the heartfelt gratitude I feel for my
teacher who taught me the importance of my breath--I love you, Maharaji.
I also want to thank my generous funders, without their support this work would have been
far more difficult to complete: Department of Education Title IV Program, National Institutes of
Health (NIH) and Dr. Adolphus Toliver, West African Research Association (WARA), USAID
Strategies and Analysis for Growth and Access (SAGA) sponsored by Cornell and Clark
Universities, and the Center for Consumer Culture (C3) at the University of Utah for financially
sustaining me during my matriculating years as a doctoral student. I especially want to
acknowledge and thank Dr. Lawrence Morehouse, President and CEO, the Florida Education
Fund, for his support and endless words of encouragement.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ..............................................................................................................4
L IS T O F T A B L E S ................................................................................................. ..................... 8
LIST OF FIGURES ............................................. .. .......... ............ ........... ....9
L IST O F A B B R E V IA T IO N S ......................................................................... ...... ............... 10
A B S T R A C T ............... ......................................................... ................................................. 1 1
1 INTRODUCTION .................................. .. ........... ..................................... 13
Research Objective ................ .................. .. .......... .............. ............... 13
R research S ettin g : M ali........................................................................................................... 18
Bamako ............................................... ............................... 21
D j a n I an d II .......................................................................................... ..................... 2 2
R e se a rc h D e sig n .....................................................................................................................2 3
M ethods of D ata Collection ..........................................................................................26
Sociodem graphic Questionnaire ..............................................................................26
Ethnographic O observations ..........................................................................................28
Photographs as Memory ............................ ............................29
Published M material ..................................................................................................... 31
S u m m a ry ........................................................................................................ ..................... 3 1
2 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE AND LITERATURE REVIEW...................................33
In tro d u c tio n ............................................................................................................................. 3 3
O verview of M icrocredit Program s ................................................................... ...............37
Background on Microcredit and Women ..................... ...................................43
In c o m e .............................................................................................................................4 5
Em pow erm ent ................................................................................................. ................ 46
Behavioral Change as Em power ent ..........................................................................49
Integrative A approach ................................................................................................. 50
Y es or N o to M icrocredit? ............................................................................................... 50
Anthropological and Interdisciplinary Literature ................................................................52
W om en's A associations ....................................................................................52
W omen's Participation in the Informal Sector.............................................................55
Summary ....................................................... .................. 57
3 MICROCREDIT AND HEALTH TRAINING IN BAMAKO..........................................59
Introduction ................................................. ............................. 59
M icro cred it in M ali ................... ............ .... .. ...... ........................ ...... .. .................... 6 1
Microcredit and Health/Nutritional Training (CEE/CEFA).......................................64
N y esig iso/C E E /C E F A ................................................... ............................................. 67
W working w ith C redit A associations ............................................................. ................ 69
Field Agent and Outreach into a New Community ....................................................71
O organizing the C redit A association ..................................... ..................... ................ 75
C E E /C E FA Training Sessions......................................... ........................ ................ 75
H health E education T raining .. .................................................................... ................ 79
Observations of the CEE/CEFA Program .................................................. ................ 83
Members Discuss Their CEE Program Participation ................................................87
Summary ......................................................................... 90
4 DYEIN G A S A W AY OF LIFE .................................................................. ................ 91
In tro d u ctio n ........................ .................................................... ........................................9 1
T he C loth D yeing Industry ...................................................................... ................ 94
Dyeing Techniques ................................................. ............ .....................98
The Expense of Beauty--Dyeing Cloth .......... ...... ......................101
C loth D years of B am ako ..................................................................... ............... 108
Profiles of Three Women Cloth Dyers...... ........ ...... ..................... 110
A access to Credit/R sources .................. ............................................................. 123
V vulnerability to H health C rises ..................................... ....................... ............... 127
N etw o rk in g .................................................................................................................... 12 8
E m pow erm ent ................................................................................. ...................... 130
S u m m a ry ...................................................................................................... ..................... 1 3 2
5 AN EXPLORATION OF WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT..............................................133
In tro d u c tio n ........................................................................................................................... 1 3 3
H health D ata ......................................................................... .... .......... ..................... 136
C lin ic v isits .............................................................................................................1 3 6
V a c c in atio n s ........................................................................................................... 1 3 7
B irth S p a c in g ..........................................................................................................1 3 8
Health-related Behavioral Changes............ .............................141
W ork Strategies/N etw working ..................................................... ............... ............... 144
C o -w iv e s ................................................................................................................. 1 4 5
Multiple Tontine Membership............ .............................146
M measuring Social Change .............................................. ............... ............... 150
C conclusion .................................................................... ..................... ....................151
Assessm ent of W om men's Em power ent.................................................. ............... 151
R ecom m en nation s ..... ............................................................................... 154
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ....................................................... ................................................ 165
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .................................................... ............................................. 174
LIST OF TABLES
2.1 Practical and Strategic N eeds .................................................................. ................ 36
2-2 Three Approaches to Microcredit and Their Commitment to Empowerment and
Sustainability (M ayoux, 2000 p.3)....................................... ...................... ............... 41
5.1 Question 1: Have You (Respondent) Ever Visited a Clinic?................ ...................137
5.4 Question 2: Have Your Children Been Vaccinated? .................................. ................ 138
5.5 Question 3: Do You Practice Birth Spacing? ................. ........................................ 138
5.6 Question 4: How Do You Perceive Your General Health? ................. ...................139
5.7 Question 5: Do You Consider Your Health to Be Much Better than a Year Ago? .........140
5.8 Health Quiz Scores ................................................................... 140
5.9 Question 6: Is It a Good Idea to Limit the Size of Your Family (limit pregnancies)? ...141
5.10 Question 7: Do You Practice Birth-Spacing? [see Table 5.5] ..................................141
5.11 Question 8: Is It a Good Idea to Avoid Becoming Pregnant Before Age 18 and After
3 5 ? ......................................................................................................... ........ . ....... 1 4 1
5.12 Question 9: Do You Bottle-feed Your Baby?....... .. ........................................ 143
5.13 Question 10: Is It a Good Idea to Stop Breast-feeding Your Child at 2 Years of Age? ..143
5.14 Question 11: Do You Have a Co-wife? ....... ......... ......... ...................... 146
5.15 Question 12: Are You Participating in More Than One Tontine? ............................. 147
5.16 Question 13: Do You Miss W ork W hen You Are Ill?...... ................... ................... 148
5.17 Question 14: Do You Miss Work When Your Children Are Ill? ...............................148
5.18 Question 15: Do You Miss Work When Your Husband Is Ill? ................................148
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1 M ap o f M ali ............................................................................................. ..................... 18
4.1 Cloth dyer displaying her inventory in Tissu Alley....................................... ............... 93
4-2 A pounder/gosili kela (method used to iron cloth). ...................................... ................ 97
4-3 C loth tied to create a tie-dye pattern ............................................................ ................ 99
4.4 Stam ping the design on bazin. ................ ............................................................. 100
4-5 Dyed cloth with a hand-stitched pattern drying on the line before stitching is
rem oved ................................................................................................. 10 1
4-6 Using a razor to cut away the stitching to reveal the pattern...................................101
4-7 Hand-dyed bazin. ................................... ........... ........................... 108
4-9 A young dyer rinsing dyed bazin. ................................................................. 118
4-10 D trying bazin on the clothesline. ................ ..........................................................1...... 18
5.1 A networking strategy: The importance of co-wives for each group. ............................146
5.2 Networks and access to credit or savings. ......... ...... ......................148
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Accumulating Savings and Credit Association
Credit with Education
Credit Epargne avec Education
Consultative Group to Assist the Poor
Canadian International Development Agency
Compagnie Malienne pour le Developpement
Freedom From Hunger
Gender and Development
Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
International Monetary Fund
John Snow Inc.
Rotating Savings and Credit Association
Structural Adjustment Programs
Monetary Union of the West Africa States
United Nations Children's Fund
United States Agency for International Development
Women in Development
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
MICROCREDIT AND EMPOWERMENT
AMONG WOMEN CLOTH DYERS OF BAMAKO, MALI
Chair: Allan F. Bums
Since the 1990s, microcredit programs have been increasingly marketed as an effective
means of poverty reduction. Microcredit programs provide small loans and savings opportunities
to those who traditionally have been excluded from commercial financial services. Microcredit
programs have also been cited as an effective way to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Health-
related issues have been mentioned as a factor preventing poor women from participating in
microcredit programs (Evans, Adams, Mohammed & Norris, 1998). In Mali, the research site
for this study, some women refer to health issues as their reason for not participating in a
This study's objective is to assess whether or not women were empowered to make
behavioral changes as a result of their participation in a microcredit program. Qualitative
research methods were used in identifying strategies these entrepreneurial women employed to
manage their work and care for themselves and their families. Conceivably, this baseline study
will expand our cultural and medical understanding of how Malian families are impacted by
disease and illness, and how this impact affects women's economic decision-making. Scholars,
researchers and development practitioners need to broaden the present development discourse
about how global health and nutritional issues impact poor women's economic capacity. A
broader scope would logically support the need for a more integrative approach using
microcredit programs in conjunction with other intervention services as a comprehensive
approach in helping to eradicate poverty in Africa.
This dissertation is an assessment of a microcredit program located in Bamako, the capital
of Mali, West Africa. Microcredit programs are designed to provide small loans and savings
opportunities to those who have been otherwise excluded from commercial financial services.
Microcredit programs have also been considered an effective means of reducing poverty
(Pankhurst & Johnston, 1999). Within microfinance institutions (MFI),1 Mayoux (2000)
described the three primary approaches used to administer microcredit programs: financial
sustainability, feminist empowerment, and poverty alleviation. The financial sustainability
approach is the dominant microfinance model used worldwide. This study assesses a microcredit
program originating from the poverty alleviation approach. Freedom From Hunger (FFH), a
U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) sponsors Credit with Education (CEE), a
microcredit program. This program integrates health and nutritional training as a comprehensive
approach to eradicating poverty.
All three approaches will be discussed in Chapter 2. The main objective of my study is to
assess whether or not the CEE model has had an impact on women's empowerment, resulting in
behavioral changes as an outcome of participants' long-term program exposure. The term
"empowerment" refers to a sense of expansion of individual choice in a person's life. Moreover,
I use the term "women's empowerment" throughout the dissertation, but prefer the term "self-
empowerment" to signify an individual's capacity to acquire the ability to make enhanced
1 The terms "microfinance" and "microcredit" may be used interchangeably to represent the same services offered
within microfinance institutions (MFI).
choices where such ability had been previously denied. A discussion of power and
disempowerment will also be explored further in Chapter 2.
In West Africa, women are generally the caretakers in the household. It is the role of
women to care for the sick. Some of the reasons given for non-participation in a microcredit
program are related to health and illness hardships (Evans, Adams, Mohammed, & Harris, 1998).
The CEE participants were chosen as the focus of this study for three reasons: women have been
characterized as having less access to financial services; women tend to be more marginalized in
society; and women are less sought after as potential clients by MFIs (Johnson & Rogaly, 1997;
MkNelly & McCord, 2001). Therefore, this study will also explore how women CEE
participants strategize their productive and reproductive work activities to minimize the
likelihood of them becoming sick and their families' vulnerability to illness.
My goal in this study is not to present a critique of the MFI per se, which has been done
sufficiently elsewhere (Buckley, 1997; Cerven & Ghazanfar, 1999; Evans, et. al., 1998; Hollis &
Sweetman, 1998; Hulme & Moseley, 1996; Johnson & Rogaly, 1997). The MFI, more
specifically, microcredit programs, are seen as viable interventions in helping to alleviate poverty
(Pankhurst, 1999). Future financial increases are projected worldwide for microcredit programs
under current initiatives made by the Gates Foundation, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor
(CGAP), and international donor agencies2 (Iritani, 2006; Mayoux, 2000). As part of the current
projected initiatives, I advocate for future microcredit programs to be designed to incorporate
issues of gender equity. Other important research issues to be explored should include:
How can microcredit programs be more dynamic and innovative in their approach to
providing necessary services beyond financial ones?
2 Consultative Group to Assist the Poor is a major international initiative founded in 1995 after the 1993
International Conference on Actions to Reduce Global Hunger.
* How can programs become more culturally adaptive?
* How can gender issues be best mainstreamed into new and/or existing programs (including
gender training for men and women as local program providers and for NGOs)?
* How can programs become participatory whereby clients' objectives are incorporated into
program planning and design?
* How has global poverty been affected after nearly three decades of instituting microcredit
My project of assessing gender impact, an area not yet incorporated into microcredit programs,
will serve as evidence of the need for the integration of gender analysis as an important and
necessary component of all microcredit programs that focus on women.
During the summer of 1999, I visited Mali to explore the feasibility of a research study. I
chose Mali because of its historical and economic importance to West African commerce. Mali
is noted for its thriving open-air markets that contribute greatly to local and national economies
of which entrepreneurial women are major participants. Cloth dyers, the population sample
chosen for this study, comprise a substantial and vital economic presence as traders, selling in
Bamako and regional markets throughout Mali and beyond. In Bamako, hand-dyed cloth is a
potentially lucrative industry for women. It is also a very costly microenterprise to operate.
Since this study explores issues of microcredit use, I thought women cloth dyers would be a
perfect occupation to explore issues of microcredit use. Even though my sample was selected
from a specific group (CEE participants) within the larger cloth dyeing community, NGOs
administrating microcredit programs do not differentiate among the types of microenterprises to
which they lend money. Requirements for participating in a CEE program will be discussed in
My principal research interests include: (a) how women strategize to allocate their time
between productive and reproductive activities; (b) how women's networks function and how
participants benefit from those networks; and (c) strategies poor women use to defy the risk of
poor health for themselves and their family? In communities where cash is scarce, it is often the
reliance on network ties rather than money that members rely on to fulfill their needs. One of the
hypotheses of the microcredit approach studied for this project is that through group-lending,
social networks become strengthened thereby empowering its members (Mayoux, 2000). I was
curious to what extent that was actually the case for women cloth dyers of the CEE program.
Social networks are not a new concept in Mali. Because money is scare, Malians use social
networks as a strategy to meet their day-to-day survival needs. Women also form networks, as a
way to gain social power and improve their social situation (Guyer, 1981). With respect to the
CEE program, I will explore whether the status of group membership increased the women's
ability to make enhanced choices as a result of increased network ties? Another reason I selected
cloth dyers as my sample group was because of my interest in hand-dyed cloth. I became
intrigued by the skill Malian cloth dyers possess as artists as they express themselves on blank,
white pieces of cloth. The boubous (long flowing gowns) Malians wear are designed with vivid
colors. The hand-made patterns resemble vibrant, moving canvases set against backdrops of
urban and rural landscapes. Surprisingly, Malian cloth dyers use no utensils to measure the
amount of commercial powdered color applied during the dyeing process. Through trial and
error, they learned how to estimate the quantity and how many different colors are necessary to
attain a particular hue. Certain dyers are known for their particular skill in mixing the powdered
dyes to replicate a color commissioned by their clients. Dyers commented that it takes years of
trial and error to perfect such a skill.
During my preliminary trip, I contacted women cloth dyers who sold their wares in the
market and also women cloth dyers who primarily worked at home. Cloth dyers who worked at
home, openly spoke of their experience using microcredit. However, during the informal
conversations with the market dyers, they never mentioned "microcredit." I became curious why
the market dyers were not using it. I wondered why some entrepreneurial women were well
informed and using microcredit, and market dyers were unaware that such a program existed.
Were home-based dyers and market dyers part of the same or different networks? What
determines their access to resources? Was microcredit marketed to all entrepreneurial women in
the same way? I discussed my findings with personnel of a local NGO that administered
microcredit in Bamako. However, while only in the field a short time, I was unable to resolve
the mystery of the NGOs outreach, an attempt to inform the local community of its services. I
was curious to learn why some groups of women were well informed and others appeared left
out and uninformed? Additionally, women's lack of access to resources could be a major
obstacle to well-intended development programs, as well as being critical to the success or
failure of a woman's microenterprise. Therefore, this project builds on the idea that women's
networks and access to resources are crucial in increasing women's capacity for self-
Figure 1-1. Map of Mali.
Research Setting: Mali
Mali is one of the largest countries in West Africa. The land surface is flat with northern
plains covered by sandy rugged hills located in the northeast and a savanna-type environment to
the south. The country is landlocked with a predominantly desert terrain. Mali's neighbors are
Algeria to the north, Niger to the east, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea to the south,
and Mauritania and Senegal at its western edge (see Figure 1-1). The climate ranges from
subtropical to arid. Mali has three principal seasons: February to June is the hot and dry season;
June to November is the rainy season, which can be humid with milder temperatures; and
November to February is the dry season with moderate temperatures. Mali has approximately
11.5 million people living in an area almost twice the size of Texas, approximately 474,764
square miles (Adams, Simon, & Madhavan, 2004).
Mali is home to five major ethnic groups: (a) theMande (52%) which include the Bamana
and Malinke; (b) the Saracoles and Peul (17%); (c) the Songhai (7%); (d) the Tuareg and the
Moors (5%); and (e) the Bozo (4%). Other ethnic groups (including the Dogon), represent 14%
of the population (Ember and Ember, 2001). Each ethnic group is historically tied to a specific
occupation. The Bamana, Malinke, and Dogon are farmers; the Peul, Moors, and Tuareg are
herders; the Saracole are traders; and the Bozo are fishers. However, in recent years, these ties
have loosened as ethnic groups seek diverse non-traditional sources of income. Although each
ethnic group speaks a separate language, nearly 80% of Malians speak Bamanankan, which is
also the common language of commerce and the lingua franca of the country. French is the
country's official language. In 2003, the literacy rate was 31% (Ember & Ember, 2001). The
principal religion is Islam, practiced by approximately 90% of the population, with indigenous
beliefs practiced by 9%; Christianity represents 1% of the population (Wing, 2004).
After more than 60 years of French colonial rule, the country gained its independence in
1960, and adopted the name Mali after the ancient Mali Empire that rose and fell between the
13th and 19th centuries (Adams, 2004). A socialist program of development was pursued post-
independence until 1968. The one-party state, governed by President Modibo Keita, was
overthrown by the military. Moussa Traore became Keita's successor. However, in 1991, mass
demonstrations for multi-party democracy culminated in the overthrow of Traore. Democratic
elections followed in 1992, and Alpha Oumar Konare was elected president through the
country's first multi-party election. The country has since continued to experience more than a
decade of relatively peaceful multi-party democratic government.
Mali is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. Despite increasing migration to cities
and towns, almost 70% of the country's population is engaged in activities within the rural
sector. Agriculture, livestock husbandry, and other primary sector activities account for 36% of
the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Sardier, 2003). Subsistence farming continues to
be the backbone of agricultural activity, although commercial farming, which involves cash
crops such as cotton and cereals, sorghum, millet, and corn, contributes significantly to the
national economy (Adams, 2004). Mali has also become one of the fastest growing gold
producing countries in the world (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2002). Because of its landlocked
topography, the country is greatly influenced by the events of its two powerful neighbors,
Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Mali has strong trade relations with these two countries. The
violent crisis in the Ivory Coast in 2002 has significantly affected Mali's trade revenue. The
2002-2003 closure of the main import/export route to the port of Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory
Coast, affected Mali's already fragile economy. Nevertheless, the doubling of cotton production
and double-digit increases in cereal and gold production (third largest in the world after South
Africa and Ghana) served to boost Mali's GDP growth from 3.5% in 2001 to nearly 7.4% in
2003 (Sardier, 2003).
Mali's economy has been noted for its large structural trade deficits and remains one of the
most aid-dependent countries in the world (Adams, 2004). Since the late 1980s, the World Bank
and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have imposed structural adjustment programs
(SAPs) (Adams, 2004). In 2003, U.S. aid assistance reached $44.2 million. The providers of
support included programs sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID); aid to democracy initiatives; and military assistance. The U.S. State Department
allocated $1.05 million to train militaries in the Pan Sahelian region of which Mali is a member.
As part of the country's structural adjustment efforts, the Malian government has been
reforming key economic sectors from: (a) cotton from Mali's major agricultural sector; and (b)
Mali's infrastructure (energy, transportation, and telecommunications). With the help of
development aid, Mali has become one of the leading producers of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa
and the world's eighth largest cotton exporter. Internal problems (i.e., a strike among cotton
growers from 2000 to 2001) within the government-owned cotton production plant, Compagnie
Malienne de Developpement Textile (CMDT). This problem has negatively impacted Mali's
annual output. Mali has become a major recipient of foreign aid from many sources, including
multilateral organizations (i.e., the World Bank and the African Development Bank) and bilateral
programs funded by France, the United States ($44.2 million in 2003), Canada, the Netherlands,
Germany, and China (Sardier 2003). The Chinese and Malians have initiated joint venture
companies, which have led to the development of a Chinese investment center (BNETD, 2001).
China is also major a participant in Mali's textile industry and large-scale construction projects
(i.e., the bridge across the Niger River, a conference center, an expressway leading into
Bamako), and a new national stadium in Bamako (BNETD, 2001).
The country's economic development efforts also focus on the promotion of its growing
informal sector in which women are key participants. As Mali strengthens its political and
economic presence within the global economy, women entrepreneurs have increasingly
contributed as a result of their increased access to credit. The majority of Malian women's
microenterprise activity is small and confined to the informal sector with transactions not
captured within national economic statistical reports.
Bamako, the capital, is the seat of political and cultural activities in the country. Bamako is
home to 1.3 million residents and covers a landmass of 27,600 hectares (BNETD, 2001). Today,
Bamako faces problems of high population growth and a weak, unbalanced economy.
Approximately one-third of the country's population lives below the poverty level and the
majority of its citizens are under 20 years of age. Unemployment is high and access to basic
services is low. Bamako is important to Mali's overall national economy as 24% of the GDP is
generated from the city. Bamako's consumption tops 25% and is responsible for 70% of the
country's commercial activity (BNETD, 2001).
Bamako is divided into eight communes. Communes serve as a governing body in
neighborhoods designed to mediate residential disputes. Communes also administer government
programs and information pertinent to each commune 's inhabitants. Each commune oversees an
unequal number of quarters (municipal districts), some spatially larger than others. Because of
the irregular land size and number of residents living in each quarter, some larger communes
manage more quarters than others. Bamako is comprised of approximately 18 quarters. But
because of population growth and urban sprawl, this number of quarters is rapidly changing.
The capital city is expanding and residents are moving to newly built neighborhoods as fast as
they are constructed. These new neighborhoods are located within 8 to 10 miles of the
downtown commercial district. The research site for this project takes place in one of Bamako's
older residential districts, a well-established quarter of Magnambougou. Magnambougou is
located across the Pont de Martyres (Bridge of Martyrs) and approximately 3.5 miles from the
heart of the commercial and municipal district. Two neighborhoods are located along the
periphery of Magnambougou: Djandijigula I and Djandijigula II (hereinafter referred to as Djan
I and Djan II) where the surveyed respondents for this research project reside.
Djan I and II
Djan I and Djan II are visibly two of the poorest neighborhoods in Magnambougou. The
neighborhoods are divided by a wide unpaved dirt road extending approximately 1.5 miles. A
sparse row of one- and two-room bungalows lines both sides of the dusty main road. Tributaries
off the main road serve as passageways into the residential neighborhood. At the time of this
study, the rocky, dry roads were in poor condition with deep crevasses and large boulders, which
made it almost impossible to cross by car. Few residents owned cars. The majority of the cars
seen in the neighborhood were public transport vehicles. The local public transportation system
consisted of recycled, dilapidated Peugot vans ("Dinii u/ llie") and old cars used as communal
taxis. Duurunies and taxis pick up residents and deliver them to local markets, various transport
stops connecting to other neighborhoods, or to the central transport yard located in the downtown
area of Bamako. The Djandigigula market is the second largest in the area next to the central
market ofMagnambougou.3 Neighbors living in other quarters would also buy and trade at the
Djandijigula market. The convenient location could account for its size and importance to the
As mentioned earlier, Bamako was selected as the research site because of its thriving
markets in which women traders play a substantial role as major economic contributors to the
local and national economy. Bamako is also headquarters for Nyesigiso, the NGO that
administered the microcredit model, Credit with Education (CEE), which was assessed for this
study. The neighborhoods of Djan I and II were selected because the participants of the CEE
program all reside in the area. Program participants lived in proximity to each other, inferring
that they were members of the same socioeconomic group. Participants were also selected from
the same microcredit program to ensure consistency of program curriculum and administrative
guidelines. As a stipulation to participating in this study, all CEE participants were required to
have taken part in the program for at least one year. Length of time in the program proved to be
a crucial element in participants' ability to recall what they learned. For purposes of this study,
long-term exposure means participation in the program for no less than three years. While
3 Regional markets often serve as an indicator of the quarter or neighborhood's prosperity.
interviewing past CEE participants, it became clear that women who had participated for less
than one year had forgotten too much of the program curriculum to be used in the study. All
CEE participants selected for this study have been in the program at least three years or more.
The CEE program was initially designed to meet women's practical needs (employment,
health, education, and sanitation) and certain strategic needs (strengthening women's
organizations, increasing self-confidence, and improving the position of women). In recent
years, Freedom From Hunger (FFH), the organization that sponsors the CEE program, became
interested in issues of women's empowerment and decided to re-examine its existing program.
By using FFH's field data from past programs based in Ghana and Bolivia, FFH reassessed its
program model measuring empowerment impact on its women participants (MkNelly &
McCord, 2001). Freedom From Hunger consulted researchers from John Snow, Inc. (JSI) to
conduct a study of empowerment and contraceptive use among members of the Grameen Bank
and the Bangladesh Rural Action Committee (BRAC) participants in Bangladesh. The Grameen
study documented how group participation had an empowering effect beyond any direct
economic impact (MkNelly & McCord, 2001). The JSI researchers who conducted the Grameen
study, Schuler and Hasehemi (1993), detailed how women's identification with the group
increased their exposure to new ideas, their self-confidence, and their mobility. The study
described how the more regimented approach illustrated by the Grameen group (compared to
BRAC) seemed to develop a more intense group identification and bond that made it easier for
women to resist the restrictions of traditional family life and adopt new family planning norms
(Schuler & Hasehemi, 1993).
Building on JSI's study, FFH defined women's empowerment as: (a) women's self-
confidence and vision of the future; (b) status and bargaining power within the household; and
(c) status and networks in the community (MkNelly & McCord, 2001). Freedom From Hunger
used qualitative and quantitative methods to locate indicators of empowerment from its previous
studies in Ghana and Bolivia. FFH interviewed the staff and program participants identifying
empowerment indicators appropriate to the local context and relationships being studied
(MkNelly & McCord, 2001). The FFH study results described empowerment indicators found at
the community, household, and individual levels.
This study uses Kabeer's definition of empowerment (1999), which referred to the process
by which a person who has been denied the ability to exercise choice acquires such ability.
Kabeer (1999) identified three interrelated components relative to choice: access to resources
(including future claims to material, human, and social resources); agency/decision-making
(including negotiation, deception, and manipulation); and achievement (well-being outcomes
women experience as a result of having access to resources and agency). I will also utilize
FFH's definition to explore aspects of CEE participant's enhanced self-confidence, and whether
they experienced a heightened sense of status in their community. Empowerment, however, is
not a linear progression in people's lives. Schuler & Hashemi (1993) suggested that
empowerment begins at the level of a woman's individual consciousness and becomes
externalized through greater physical mobility, remunerated labor, a strong role in the household
and, eventually, meaningful participation in the larger community. Kabeer (1999) stated that
empowerment cannot be reduced to a single process or outcome. MkNelly and McCord (2001)
added that impacts on empowerment perceived by outsiders might not necessarily be indicators
most valued by the program participants themselves. In Chapter 2, the issue of empowerment
and choice will be discussed in greater detail.
Methods of Data Collection
My data source is derived from participants' self-reporting of behavioral changes as a result
of their long-term exposure to the CEE program. The methods used included: participant/
observation; open-ended and structured interviews; focus groups; socio-demographic survey;
photographs; NGO's literature; and published and unpublished studies and brochures. The data
collected and results of this study are a combination of qualitative and quantitative research
After locating the sample group, the three groups consisted of: 24 CEE participants with
long-term program exposure; 21 individual Nyesigiso microcredit users (MC); and 27 non-
microcredit users (NMC). A total of 72 respondents were surveyed. The questions were
developed from information learned during focus groups, observations, and unstructured
interviews. The questionnaire was designed to include questions concerning: demographics and
socioeconomic characteristics; cloth dyeing history; economic activities; types of income
generating strategies other than and including the use of microcredit; other types of affiliated
networks; help they receive in case they became ill or a family member became ill; and use or
non-use of tontines (local credit and savings groups). The questionnaire was pre-tested with five
cloth dyers and then revised. I interviewed most dyers in comfortable, familiar surroundings
either at the home of a host dyer or in the market. Women arrived in groups and sat patiently
until they were interviewed. Everyone was interviewed individually. Most interviews lasted
approximately 50 minutes.
After arriving in Bamako, I introduced myself and the research project to every NGO that
administered microcredit. I was searching for an NGO that administered a microcredit model
that integrated health and nutritional training with a microcredit program. Nyesigiso, was the
only NGO in Bamako that administered such a program. After located the NGO, I had difficulty
locating a group of cloth dyers who were CEE participants and who also met the time
requirement (participated in program for at least one year). The CEE program was designed to
target the poorest women in a community. The initial loan amount was for approximately $50.
Since cloth dyeing is an expensive microenterprise to operate, most cloth dyers I interviewed
while searching for CEE participants were not interested in borrowing such small loans that also
required time-consuming program requirements (i.e., group-lending, weekly meetings, and
training). These program stipulations and small loan amounts were designed to discourage
financially better-off borrowers. The Djan CEE participants were the only group that met the
study criteria. Therefore, this sample was neither random nor arbitrary. As a purposeful sample
(Bernard, 2002), the group fit the study requirement: CEE participants--cloth dyers with--long-
term program exposure. As part of the assessment, I compared the health and work-related
survey data of the three groups: CEE participants; microcredit users with no added health
training; and the non-microcredit user group. Since all three groups live in proximity to each
other and share the same socioeconomic status, I infer that the three groups were equal with
respect to their knowledge of health and nutritional matters, except for the control group--the
CEE participants. Therefore, groups measuring p-scores of < .05 and high percentage ratings
(relative to the other two groups) will be used as indicators denoting behavioral changes. The
microcredit user group chosen for the study were also selected from Nyesigiso and abided by the
same administrative guidelines as CEE participants. Moreover, the major difference between the
CEE participants and the microcredit user group is that the latter does not participate in group-
lending. The microcredit user group borrows money on an individual basis using collateral with
no additional training. The selection criteria for the microcredit user group included: (a) they
were presently in repayment status, (b) they were in the same occupation of cloth dyeing, and (c)
they lived in proximity to the CEE participants. The non-microcredit group had never
participated in any type of microcredit program. The only criteria for study participation
included: (a) they live in proximity to the other two groups, (b) they had never used microcredit
before, and (c) they shared the same occupation of cloth dyeing.
Wolcott (1999) explained three major ways in which qualitative researchers gather data:
(a) participant observation (experiencing), (b) interviewing (inquiring), and (c) studying
materials prepared by others (examining). The following section describes the methods used in
collecting data for this study.
Participant observation is sometimes viewed as the central and defining method used in
field research for anthropologists (Dewalt, Dewalt, & Wayland, 1998). Spradley (1969) used the
term "participant observation" to refer to the general approach of fieldwork in ethnographic
research. Handwerker (2001) used the term as a general method used by anthropologists.
Dewalt et al. (1998) referred to participant observation as a systematic approach to doing
fieldwork, calling for focused attention, analysis of behavior, and recording of information
(fieldnotes) gained from participating and observing people as they carry out their everyday
activities. Additionally, the information gained through participating and observing is as critical
to social scientific analysis as more formal research techniques, such as interviewing, structured
observation, and the use of questionnaires and formal elicitation techniques (Dewalt et al., 1998).
Moreover, participant observation enhances the quality of the interpretation of the collected data.
What was learned about Malian culture came as a result of participating in the lives of
these cloth dyers during my field stays. I observed women cloth dyers working alone, as well as
in large and small work groups. I spoke with groups about their experience using microcredit,
and I asked open-ended questions about their work activities and the health of their families.
The women openly shared their knowledge about themselves and their experiences. By
participating and learning to dye cloth myself gave me an experience of what it is like to create
colors and how physically challenging the work of cloth dyeing can be.
One of the interviewing methods used was focus groups. Focus groups were used
primarily at the beginning of the study to gather general information to understand more about
the domain of cloth dyeing, to observe how women organized their workday, and learn about the
overall health of cloth dyers and their families. Weller (1998) stated that the less known about a
subject the more appropriate the use of unstructured, open-ended methods can be. Weller added
that the initial stages of a project should include a descriptive exploration of the topic being
studied. I facilitated approximately 10 focus groups. For the focus groups, several cloth dyers
hosted me at their respective homes. I facilitated the focus groups by asking a series of topic-
specific, open-ended questions. All focus group discussions were recorded and the tapes
Photographs as Memory
Photographs can be powerful records of visual accounts of activities and events.
Photographs can be used as primary visual data (Loizos, 2001). For this study, I used
photographs as documentation of events that captured the everyday activities of cloth dyers, their
work environments, meetings, and their families. The photographs were sometimes used in
instances where the taking of notes proved to be cumbersome and distracting (i.e., during focus
groups). I documented women in the following circumstances: (a) socializing with friends, (b) at
naming and wedding ceremonies where gifts of cloth were exchanged, (c) at weekly microcredit
meetings, (d) working alone or in groups, (e) using equipment and supplies in dyeing, and (f) the
environment around their living/working space. Often photographs were used as reminders
about people, places, and events. I visually captured recurring themes and images that served as
helpful insights about group members and leaders: (a) generations of cloth dyers working
together, (b) friends sharing their stories, and (c) women coordinated domestic activities with
other female family members as they prepared food and kept their compound clean and orderly.
I also gave the camera to my research assistant and told him to photograph scenes he thought
The benefit of shooting with a digital camera in the field was that we were able to view the
results right away. At the end of each day, my assistant and I discussed his photographs and
particular perspective, what made a good photograph, how to improve the photos, and ways
photos could be more effective. For ease in retrieval, I used several methods to categorize the
photos: dates, themes, activities, and places.
Photo documentation proved to be a very useful method for this project. I took photos of
each respondent for the survey. While interviewing, I realized some women were called by
multiple variations of their names (i.e., last names, nicknames). Women using names other than
their given names seemed to be a common practice. But as part of the study, it was confusing
and difficult to identify each respondent. I learned that some women responded only to their
nickname. Sometimes a woman was called by multiple names, depending on her relation to the
speaker. To lessen the chance of confusion, I took individual photos of each respondent. I
grouped each photo according to their respective group (CEE, MC, and NMC). While
administering the survey, I asked each respondent to identify other members of her group and
asked if she knew or recognized other women on the page. When I compared fieldnotes to
names and respective groupings, this method made clear the connections between women's
social and business networks.
Freedom From Hunger (FFH), the U.S. based NGO, designed and sponsored the CEE
program. The FFH Bamako Office Director, Boubacar Diallo, provided training manuals and
reports (published and unpublished) about the CEE program in Mali. I used the training manuals
as references, helping to better understand the content of the CEE training. Additionally, I used
online journal articles from multiple sources. While visiting other NGOs in Bamako that
administered microcredit programs, I received literature and several website addresses, where I
gained a better understanding of the health issues urban Malian women face for themselves and
The research objective for this project is to assess women's empowerment and behavioral
changes as a result of their participation in a microcredit program. A woman's work strategies
used to limit her and her family's vulnerability to illness will also be explored. This dissertation
moves away from attempts to measure economic impact according to financial indicators (i.e.,
income, repayment, or widespread microcredit use). It instead focuses on behavioral shifts
women have chosen to make as a result of access to informal health and nutritional education.
In Chapter 2, I discuss relevant theories and literature relative to gender and development,
power, microcredit, women and children's health issues in Africa, and women's networks. I also
discuss current theories and approaches used within microfinance institutions (MFI).
In Chapter 3, I continue the microcredit discussion focused specifically in Africa/Mali and
the three primary approaches used in the industry with a brief discussion comparing the Grameen
Bank and village banking models to the CEE program. I give an overview of Nyesigiso, the
local NGO in Bamako that administered the CEE program, integrating microcredit with health
and nutritional training and how it works in the Bamako context. I describe the importance of
field agents to the success of a Credit Association. Field agents represent the bank and facilitate
all CEE meetings and training. Lastly, I offer highlights of women's comments about their
experience participating in the CEE program.
In Chapter 4, I describe how a segment of the hand-dyed cloth industry in Mali went from
using plant-based dyes to importing commercial powdered dyes from Europe by way of the
Ivory Coast and Sierre Leone. I discuss the techniques used in the industry to create designs and
vibrant colors that Malian cloth dyers have popularized throughout the region. I give examples
of the operating expenses necessary to manage a cloth dyeing microenterprise. I profile three
women cloth dyers, detailing the lives of each, and I discuss their microcredit use, vulnerability
to health crises, and their social and business networks.
In Chapter 5, I provide a qualitative discussion of the quantitative data. I discuss the
difficulties of measuring social change over time, and examine and compare the higher
percentage scores of the CEE participants to the other two groups. I use the categories of health-
related and work strategies or networking denoting behavioral changes in these areas. In
conclusion, I make an assessment of the CEE program and whether or not participants
experienced empowerment as a result of their long-term exposure to the health and nutritional
training. Lastly, I make several important recommendations: (a) supporting the need for varied
microcredit programs to accommodate women's varying needs for other intervention services in
conjunction with microcredit programs; (b) that programs designed to address poorer women
need to be subsidized; and (c) the need to incorporate women's strategic gender needs into
microcredit program design, research and microfinance policy guidelines.
THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE AND LITERATURE REVIEW
... that without a structural transformation of the lives of the poorest and most oppressed
sections of all societies, there can be neither development nor equity.
(Kabeer, 1994, p.18)
My study utilizes gender theory as a framework to better understand gender relations in the
lives of entrepreneurial Malian women. In particular, my study employs gender analysis in
assessing the impact Credit with Education (CEE), an integrated microcredit and health-training
program, has had on women's empowerment. Kabeer (1999) defined empowerment as the
process whereby those who have been denied the ability to exercise choice acquire such an
ability. Pertaining to choice, three inter-related areas will be explored: (a) access to resources;
(b) the processes of decision-making; and (c) the sense of well-being as a result of acquiring
access to resources and agency. For this project, I explore empowerment as it relates to the
choices participants made as a result of their long-term exposure to the CEE program.
Since the mid-1990s, "empowerment" has sometimes been used as a catch-all phrase
attached to projects involving women, gender, health, education, and development (Cheater,
1999; Kristmundsdottir, 1999). However, more than a catch-all expression, empowerment can
also be a powerful position where behavioral change happens. With the latter in mind, I prefer to
use the term "self-empowerment." I argue that the CEE program or any other development-
based program does not "empower" people per se, but that women participants themselves
choose which elements of the CEE curriculum best supports an improved quality of life for
themselves and their families. Later in the dissertation, I draw on ethnographic accounts and a
qualitative interpretation of quantitative data to best situate Malian women cloth dyers as a result
of their program participation.
Theoretical Framework: Gender and Development (GAD)
From scholars to development workers, gender theory has greatly influenced discussions
about relations between men and women. Starting with the seminal work of Boserup (1970),
Women's Role in Economic Development investigated the impact development projects had on
women living in developing countries. Boserup discovered that most of the development
projects of the period ignored women as a viable economic resource. Projects that required
technical training were reserved for men, which resulted in most development projects
improving opportunities and technical skills for men. But women were overlooked and denied
access to such advancements (Boserup, 1970). Furthermore, she pointed out that women had
been left out of development even though they were major participants in national economies.
Feminist scholars, activists, and women development workers involved in international
development from the United States brought this evidence to the attention of U.S. policymakers
(Boserup, 1970; Tinker, 1990; Maguire, 1984). These women challenged the assumption that
modernization--the idea that development is measured by developing countries adopting Western
technologies, institutions, and values--would automatically result in gender equality. Moreover,
out of the lobbying efforts of advocates of women's inclusion in development, the term "Women
in Development" (WID) was coined. The term was then adopted as a development approach that
brought attention to women as an untapped resource. If integrated into policy and program
planning, women could make a vital contribution to the market, improve national economic
efficiency, and bring about equity for women (Moser, 1993; Reddock, 2000).
Initially, the WID approach narrowly focused on the needs of women exclusively. The
promotion of access to credit and employment became a conduit to better integrate them into the
development process. However, as scholars, feminists, and activists grew increasingly interested
in issues of gender, the idea of women as a category became only half the development story.
Since men and women play different roles, which are shaped by society's historical, religious,
ethnic, cultural, and economic norms (Grosz-Ngate, 1989;1 Whitehead, 1979), it became
necessary to critically rethink how development impacts the lives of women. Therefore, the
Gender and Development (GAD) approach grew out of the limitations encountered from WID.
The GAD approach evolved by not only encompassing issues of inclusion of women, but
also by examining and critiquing unequal social relations between men and women in the
workplace, as well as inequalities found within societal norms. The GAD model adopted a two-
point approach to the study of women and development: (a) to investigate women's material
conditions and class position, and (b) to study the structures of inequality and the norms that
define and maintain women's disadvantaged status (Reddock, 2000). Moser (1993) stated that
the GAD approach is an attempt at a holistic model, treating development as a complex process
influenced by socioeconomic and political forces.
Within the GAD approach, Molyneaux (1981) made a clear distinction between women's
interests, as a biological category, and gender interests, which are socially constructed roles both
men and women practice in society. Molyneaux described two types of gender needs relevant to
development: the practical and strategic needs. Practical gender needs include providing food
security, shelter, education, and health care. Strategic gender needs are those needs which help
in confronting women's subordinate position to men in their society. Strategic needs vary
according to particular societal contexts. They may relate to gender division of labor, power and
control, legal rights, domestic violence, equal wages, and women's control over their bodies.
Strategic gender needs seek to challenge women's unequal position in society (Moser, 1993).
1 For an analysis of Bamanan gender construction in Mali, see Grosz-Ngat6 (1989).
Therefore, when approaching a problem (i.e., gender inequality) from a particular framework
(WID or GAD), one identifies a certain set of problems and arrives at certain types of strategies
and solutions. The WID approach tends to focus on practical needs, but a GAD approach
focuses on both practical needs and strategic gender needs (see Table 2-1). The GAD is also
interested in addressing the root inequalities (gender and class) that create many of the practical
problems women experience in their daily lives (Connelly, Li, MacDonald & Parpart, 2000).
Table 2.1. Practical and Strategic Needs
Practical needs Strategic Needs
Tend to be immediate, short-term Tend to be long-term
Are unique to particular women, according to the May be viewed as being relevant to all women
roles assigned to them in the gender division of (i.e., all women experience some degree of
labor in their society inequality relative to men, however, the degree
varies by class, race, religion, age, etc.)
Related to daily needs: food, housing, income, Related to disadvantaged position: subordination,
health, children, safety lack of resources and education, vulnerability to
poverty and violence, etc.
Are easily identifiable by women Are not always identifiable by women (i.e.,
women may be unaware of the basis of
Can be addressed by providing specific inputs: disadvantage or potential for change)
food, hand pumps, clinics, etc.
Can be addressed by consciousness-raising,
increasing self-confidence, providing education,
strengthening women's organizations, fostering
political mobilization, etc.
Addressing Practical Needs Addressing Strategic Needs
Tends to involve women as beneficiaries and Involves women as agents or enables women to
perhaps as participants become agents
Can improve the condition of women's lives Can improve the position of women in society
Generally, does not alter traditional roles and Can empower women and transform gender
relationships relations and attitudes
Source: Connelly et al., 2000 p. 142 (based on Moffat et al., 1991).
As discussed in detail in Chapter 3, the planning and the design of the CEE model seek to
address participants' practical needs (health, income, children, food), and address certain
strategic needs (increased self-confidence, education, strengthening women's networks) without
paying attention to transforming gender relations. The tendency of development to avoid issues
of social norms and inequalities is defended by Burkey (1993) later in this chapter.
Overview of Microcredit Programs
After the drought in Mali (1972 to 1974), international aid began flowing into the country.
Microcredit programs started, in Mali, in the late 1980s. The programs were initially designed to
assist entrepreneurs with preparing business plans and bookkeeping to eventually gain access to
formal financial services (Webster & Fidler, 1996). The loans ranged in size from $4,000 to
$100,000. The central goal was to help move viable mid-size small businesses from the informal
to the formal sector. During this period, more informal credit programs were also introduced.
These programs were designed to assist civil servants leaving the public sector to start their own
business (Webster & Fidler, 1996). Also introduced during this period were programs such as
the village-banking model, which combined credit with savings, and members borrowing against
their accumulated savings as collateral. In the mid-1990s, after the country's second democratic
elections, international development aid continued to increase. During this growth period, new
microcredit programs were introduced focusing on small-scale entrepreneurs within the informal
sector, but they offered limited to no financial training. Microcredit was being promoted
nationally and internationally as an important poverty alleviation strategy enabling poor women
and men to cope with the adverse economic and social impact of Structural Adjustment
Programs (SAPs) and globalization (Mayoux, 2000). Structural Adjustment Programs were
designed to reduce government debt and increase the power of the financial market in developing
countries' economies, thereby increasing productivity and efficiency. Where SAPs were
imposed, major economic declines resulted in decreases in individual and household income, as
well as severe cuts in government social expenditure programs and reductions in food subsidies.
As a result of the devastation caused by SAPs, development programs were instituted to help
developing countries begin rebuilding their economies (Reddock, 2000).
As a development inclusion strategy, microcredit programs emphasize women's economic
contribution as a way to increase overall financial efficiency within national economies. The
GAD approach provides an analytical framework from which to assess the impact the CEE
program has had on its participants and their empowerment. However, in all fairness to FFH,
women's empowerment was not a focus in the initial design of the CEE program. The CEE
program started in Bamako in the mid-1990s. In 2001, FFH began examining issues of
empowerment within their CEE program (MkNelly & McCord, 2001). I became interested in
the CEE model because of its integrated health and nutritional training combined with
microcredit. The integrative approach seems to be a more comprehensive model toward poverty
alleviation. I was also curious to learn whether or not CEE participants experienced enhanced
choices resulting in behavioral change as an outcome of long-term program exposure. The
program assessment will be discussed in Chapter 5.
During the 1990s, scholars have increasingly referred to microcredit as an effective means
of poverty reduction (Cerven & Ghazanfar, 1999; Rekha, 1995; Pankhurst & Johnston, 1999).
Microcredit programs provide small loans and savings opportunities to those who have
traditionally been excluded from commercial financial services. Evans et al. (1998), cited
health-related issues as a factor preventing poor women from participating in microcredit
In Mali, I interviewed a number of women who chose not to participate in microcredit
programs. They cited several reasons for their lack of participation. Some stated they had yet to
build a sufficient client-base on which to rely. Others cited seasonally slow periods making
repayment risky. Some women explained that family health responsibilities prohibited them
from consistently working to sell the volume necessary to repay the loan. As major caregivers,
women sometimes are not able to work when their husbands or children become ill, making
repayment difficult. Among the cloth dyers interviewed, family health issues proved to be a
major element in women's decision-making as to whether or not to participate in a microcredit
program. Another objective of this dissertation is the exploration of CEE participants' work
strategies to lessen their vulnerability to health-related incidents.
Since the 1990s, microfinance institutions have addressed issues of sustainability,
participation, and empowerment. These issues have been researched and debated by donor
agencies, NGOs, feminists, and activists (Johnson & Rogaly, 1997; Kabeer, 1999; Mahmud,
2003; Mayoux, 2001; Razavi, 1997). However, underneath these shared concerns lie three
fundamentally different approaches to microcredit: financial sustainability, feminist
empowerment, and the poverty alleviation. All three microfinance approaches have different
goals coupled with varied perspectives on how to incorporate gender into microfinance policy
and programs (Mayoux, 2000).2
First, the financial sustainability approach, promoted worldwide since the 1980s, seeks to
create financially self-sustainable microcredit programs designed to increase local access to
microfinance services for a large number of poor people with an emphasis on the inclusion of
women. This approach seeks financial sustainability for local NGOs operating within
developing countries. The goal is for local NGOs to eventually operate independently of outside
donor assistance. Within this approach, client participation is perceived to increase market
efficiency by supporting women's work efforts through access to credit and the reliance of
2 For an in-depth analysis of the three approaches, see Mayoux (1999, 2000).
women's intra-group solidarity for self-help. This approach has two major objectives: (a) to give
loans to the poor and (b) to maintain financial sustainability of its operation. No additional
services are offered to its constituents, male or female. This approach maintains that other
necessary services in combating complex issues of poverty (i.e., education, sanitation, health,
and nutrition) must be addressed through other means. The financial sustainability approach
assumes: (a) women will automatically be empowered as a result of their access to credit, (b)
women's income will automatically increase significantly, (c) women will be in control of their
loans, and (d) women will inevitably be better able to negotiate decision-making within the
household. But with no additional intervention or change in gender relations at the micro or
macro levels of society, these assumed outcomes could be realized minimally, at best.
Second, the feminist empowerment approach is rooted in the development of earlier
microcredit programs in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Self-Employed Women's Association
(SEWA) and the Working Women's Forum (WWF) in India. This approach is concerned with
gender equality and women's human rights. Under this approach, microcredit programs are
promoted as a means to a wider strategy for women's economic and socio-political
empowerment. This approach focuses on integrating gender awareness into programs and
organizing women and men to challenge and change gender inequalities. For clarity, the term
"feminist empowerment" is not to be confused with "women's empowerment." Feminist
empowerment is a term coined by Mayoux (2000), which refers to one of three microcredit
approaches used worldwide. Women's empowerment, for this research context, refers to the
ability to make "choices" where the ability had been previously denied. For this study, women's
empowerment indicators are behavioral changes CEE participants chose to make as a result of
their long-term participation in the CEE program.
Third, the poverty alleviation approach seeks sustainability through partnering with local
institutions committed to community self-reliance and self-determination for the poor.
Participation is seen as an end in itself, culminating in the development of self-managed people
owning their own microenterprise. According to the poverty alleviation approach, women's
empowerment will be realized at the individual, household, and community level as enhanced
well-being. These benefits are construed as impact outcomes. Using the poverty alleviation
approach, this project assesses the impact of an integrated microcredit and health education
program called Credit with Education (CEE). The CEE program is discussed at length in
Chapter 3. Table 2.2 illustrates the major differences between the three approaches.
Table 2-2. Three Approaches to Microcredit and Their Commitment to Empowerment and
Sustainability (Mayoux, 2000 p.3)
Approach Financial Sustainability Feminist Empowerment Poverty Alleviation
Basis for Presently the dominate Gender awareness and Integrates development
approach approach used and feminist organizing programs with poverty-
promoted by donor targeted communities
Reason for High female repayment Gender equality and human Higher levels of female
focusing on history; inclusion into rights poverty; responsibility for
women national market economy household well-being
Main focus Financially sustainable Gender awareness and Access to credit as part of
credit programs for poor feminist organizing poverty alleviation
people strategy; increase well-
being of poorer families
Empowerment Expansion of individual Transformation of power Community development
choice and self-reliance; relations throughout society and self-sufficiency
Sustainability Financial sustainability of Development of self- Establishment of local
program sustaining participatory participatory institutions to
women's organizing as a ensure long-term
conduit to wider women's community self-reliance
political movement toward and determination for the
a transformation of gender poor
Regardless of the approach, not much attention has been paid to gender disparities in
micro-lending. In the field of international development, there is a tendency to view gender as a
cultural issue and not a matter for outside intervention.3 Therefore, studies about gender impact,
as it pertains to microcredit programs of any kind, have been limited. Instead of focusing on
gender relations, most gender studies available focus primarily on measuring financial data: (a)
the numbers of loans to women, (b) repayment rates, (c) activities for which loans were given,
(d) background information on women, and (e) the effectiveness of focusing on women. Most
other studies are short gender-impact assessments commissioned by NGOs and donors. These
assessments use inconsistent indicators and limit information of empowerment to questions
concerning: increased confidence; degrees of civic involvement; strength and variety of social
networks; control over loans; loan use; and control over income in the household (Goetz & Sen,
1996; MkNelly & Lippold, 1998; MkNelly & McCord, 2001). Despite the few studies
measuring gender impact, it is not possible at this stage of the development of microcredit
programs to draw conclusions about the effects of women's empowerment as a result of
Moreover, within microfinance institutions, major contradictions stem from how the term
"empowerment" has been used. Presently, no clear definition or uniform discourse exists about
empowerment and how best to integrate it into development programs. The term is frequently
used in connection with a multi-dimensional definition of poverty alleviation. The term
"women's empowerment" is oftentimes viewed as too controversial and political and should be
' In a guide to participatory development, Burkey (1993) wrote: "Is it the role of international development agencies
to fight for women's liberation in the Third World? Wouldn't that be cultural imperialism at its worst? It isn't
necessary to campaign for women's liberation; it is necessary that agencies make sure that their programs and
projects do not make the situation for women worse. Secondly, a crucial step would be to ensure that women do
have at least equal opportunity to participate in development projects with men. If rural women have genuine
opportunities for participating in their own development, then they will take care of the 'when' and 'how' of
liberation" (Mayoux, 2000).
avoided (Mayoux, 2000). Poverty alleviation and women's empowerment are seen--within the
development domain-as intertwined. The assumption is that women's access to microcredit
will lead to their increased contribution to household income. The increase in household income,
coupled with other interventions, will translate into improved well-being for the family, and
women will bring about the necessary changes in gender inequalities. However, given no
additional assistance other than access to credit, this outcome is highly unlikely. But even with
the possibility of increased income, women's spending patterns would most likely remain the
same having little, if any, effect at countering gender inequalities at the micro or macro levels
and may even continue to disadvantage girls. As an example of a gender inequality at the micro-
level, daughters, in particular, may be withdrawn from school to assist in their mothers'
increased work-load (Mayoux, 1999; USAID, 1989).
Background on Microcredit and Women
The advocacy of poor women's access to credit originated within the nations of the
Southern Hemisphere. In the early 1970s, women's movements in several countries became
increasingly interested in poverty-focused credit programs for women. The problem of women's
lack of access to credit was first given a global platform at the International Women's
Conference in Mexico in 1975. This conference led to the founding of the Women's World
Banking Network that produced publications about women and credit (Hillhorst & Oppenoorth,
1992). The 1980s witnessed the beginning of international donor, government, and NGO-
sponsored credit programs, established as a component of the international women's agenda at
the 1985 Nairobi Women's Conference (Mayoux, 1995). In the 1980s, the Grameen Bank of
Bangladesh4 adopted as its paramount goal the use of microcredit programs to aid in the
4 In 1983, Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. Yunus's solution to world poverty is
based on the belief that credit is a fundamental human right whereby donors loan poor people money on terms that
alleviation of women's poverty. International development agencies conceive of microcredit
programs as a strategy to assist the poor in generating and accumulating assets. Because of
higher levels of female poverty and women's time-consuming household responsibilities, some
microcredit programs were designed specifically to target women. The aim in attracting women
entrepreneurs as clients was to assist in raising household income. Moreover, empirical evidence
has shown that women, as a group, are consistently better at promptness and reliability of loan
repayment Johnson & Rogaly, 1997; MkNelly & Dunford, 1996). Furthermore, targeting
women as clients of microcredit programs has been a very effective method of ensuring that the
benefits of increased income accrue to the general welfare of the family and particularly to
children. At the same time, women themselves benefit from the higher status they achieve when
they are able to provide new income to household resources (Mayoux, 2000).
All the attention paid to women and caring for their families through access to credit is
commendable. However, access alone does not insure any dismantling of inequitable gender
relations. Moreover, this level of enthusiasm about targeting the poor and women is in direct
contrast to the findings of recent research into the working of microfinance institutions in several
countries (including banks, NGOs, and government schemes). Current studies suggest that
microcredit brings far more benefit to people just below the poverty line than to those far below
it (i.e., CEE participants). Furthermore, studies imply that the poorest clients have in some cases
been made worse off (Hulme & Mosley, 1996). Additionally, women do not necessarily benefit
from loans disbursed in their names, especially when their growing need for cash to repay debts
creates additional tension in the household (Goetz & Gupta, 1996).
are suitable to them--teach them a few sound uncomplicated financial principles, and they will help themselves. To
date, the Grameen Bank has provided $3.8 billion to 2.4 million families in rural Bangladesh. Today, more than 250
institutions worldwide operate microcredit programs based on the Grameen model. In 2006, Mohammed Yunus and
the Grameen Bank was awarded the Nobel Prize for his contribution in helping to alleviate poverty worldwide.
This investigation does not directly analyze or focus on the economic impact of
microcredit programs, per se (i.e., whether or not microcredit actually alleviates poverty). What
is important to this discussion is whether or not program participants have empowered
themselves as a result of their exposure to the CEE program. Specifically, did women
participants retain and adopt any of the health and nutritional practices taught in the training
sessions? Has their program participation expanded their access to greater resources?
Few studies have documented economic impact using microcredit (USAID, 1989). Berger
(1989) asserted that the preference for microcredit programs has developed despite little
evidence of a positive economic impact that these programs have had on poverty. However, the
benefits provided by small working capital loans may include: (a) the ability to buy larger
quantities of stock at lower prices, (b) access to working capital for uninterrupted business
operations, (c) increased product diversity and inventory volume, and (d) an alternative to more
costly sources of informal moneylenders. Moreover, in the short term, program participants
generally experience moderate increases in income and increased income stability. Perhaps
more important than the amount of income is whether or not the added funds help poor
households reduce their vulnerability through greater diversification of income sources and/or
accumulation of assets. In addition, even small increases in a woman's income can be useful for
medical expenditures, investment in improved sanitation, the payment of children's school fees,
reduction of women's labor burdens, or other nonfood-related changes that enhance the
nutritional status of household members.
The literature on economic impact of microcredit programs reports that when women have
better access to credit, the entire household benefits (Johnson & Rogaly, 1997; Mayoux, 1999).
Women are better prepared to handle unexpected crises. In Africa, women usually dedicate a
larger proportion of their earnings to nutritionally beneficial items, such as food and medicine
(Guyer, 1980). Even when women's earnings may be small compared to the total household
income, their impact may be more significant than their financial contribution would indicate. In
Mali, young women's nonagricultural income, while small relative to the total household
income, had a positive effect on children's nutritional status while no such effect was found for
the overall household income (DeGroote, 1994).
Furthermore, a poor woman's time can be as important an economic asset as income. It is
possible that the primary benefit of a microcredit program for women may be that they can earn
the same or slightly more income in less time, freeing them to perform other duties (e.g.,
preparing more nutritious food and paying closer attention to children's health and well-being),
or getting much needed rest and more leisure time (Berger & Buvinic, 1989).
Women's empowerment is a multi-dimensional process of change in power relations.
Within microfinance institutions, there are multiple and competing definitions of empowerment.
The financial sustainability approach defines empowerment in terms of economics, expansion of
individual choice, and the increased capacity for self-reliance. The feminist empowerment
approach defines it as a transformation of power relations throughout society. The poverty
alleviation approach defines empowerment as having increased well-being, community
development involvement, and a sense of self-sufficiency. The financial sustainability and the
poverty alleviation approaches do not address issues of gender relations. They give no clear
indication as to how shifts in power will take place. The financial sustainability approach seems
to assume empowerment will automatically happen as a result of women's mere access to
microcredit. The poverty alleviation approach seeks to promote sensory attributes (well-being,
self-sufficiency) of empowerment yet again this approach does not address gender relations. The
feminist empowerment approach seeks a transformation of unequal gender relations throughout
society. The feminist empowerment approach is the only approach that directly addresses the
issue of women' inequality within their society. The underlying assumption of this approach is
that women's empowerment requires strategic guidelines at the macro-level of development. It
also requires support for women participants in challenging gender inequalities at the micro-
level. I will next discuss other definitions of empowerment made by researchers without regard
to any particular perspective or approach to microfinance.
Mayoux, an independent consultant, has been writing about empowerment and
microfinance since the late 1980s. Her research has influenced this study in providing an
analysis of the various aims of the different microfinance approaches and how women's
empowerment is viewed in each of the standpoints (Mayoux, 1999; Mayoux, 2000). She posited
four points that promote women's empowerment: (a) women need to articulate their own
aspirations and strategies for change, (b) women need to develop the necessary skills and
acquired access to the necessary resources to achieve their aspirations, (c) women need to
examine and articulate their collective interests and to link their interests with other women and
men's organizations for change, and (d) women need to change the underlying inequalities of
power and resources that constrain their aspirations and their ability to achieve them. Mayoux
(2000) warned that women's empowerment cannot be assumed to be an automatic outcome of
participating in a microcredit program regardless of the approach. Mayoux (2000) emphasized
that women's empowerment needs to be strategically planned as an integral part of a
development program design. She added that unless empowerment is strategically integrated
into the design process of a program, it is likely to have only a limited impact on participants of a
microcredit or any other development program.
Kabeer's (1999) definition of empowerment referred to those who have been denied the
ability to make choices and then to acquire such abilities. As already mentioned, the three
determining areas to examine choice include: (a) access to resources, (b) agency (a process of
decision-making), and (c) achievement (the satisfaction from gaining access to resources and
agency). Kabeer's definition of empowerment will be used in this study to assess the impact of
women's empowerment as participants in the CEE program.
Freedom From Hunger (FFH), the sponsors of the CEE program, defines empowerment as:
(a) a sense of self-confidence and a vision of the future, (b) enhanced status and bargaining
power within the household, and (c) the ability to interact effectively in the public sphere
(MkNelly & McCord, 2001). I found the FFH definition difficult to assess or measure.
However, I do incorporate examples of FFH's CEE participants' sense of confidence and
enhanced bargaining power in the women's productive lives.
These definitions all have in common the notion of choice. The type of power referred to
in this study refers to the ability to exercise choice in contexts where that ability had been
previously denied. To disempower, therefore, is to be denied choice. Moreover, Kabeer (1999)
posited that some choices have greater significance than others, especially in terms of the
consequences in people's lives. She makes a distinction between strategic life choices and those
of a less consequential nature. Strategic life choices are essential for people to be able to live the
life they want (i.e., choice of job, marriage partner, size of family, or whether or not to have a
family). Strategic choices provide a framework for the other less crucial choices, which may be
necessary in addressing the quality of one's life, but these choices do not define it. Having the
ability to make strategic choices changes social relations. Empowerment, therefore, refers to the
expansion in a person's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was
previously denied to them (Kabeer, 1999). In the next section, I discuss behavioral change as an
indicator of empowerment.
Behavioral Change as Empowerment
Microcredit programs alone have not been shown to provide a significant improvement in
household nutritional status without the integration of education that specifically promotes
nutritionally important behavioral changes. Additionally, women's empowerment alone is
unlikely to directly improve household food security and family nutritional status without prior
education, which leads to behavioral changes that are important economically and nutritionally.
MkNelly and Dunford (1996) believed that the empowerment of women can make them "ready
for learning," and women's economic resources can enable them to take action on what they
have learned. As outcomes of a rural Malian impact study participants reported that they learned
about health and nutritional matters, such as how often, how much, and when children should eat
(MkNelly & Lippold, 1998). Without providing non-formal educational training, which
promotes behavioral change, improvements to household nutrition would most likely not have
occurred. However, with the integration of a non-formal educational program, the potential of
microcredit programs to improve family health and nutritional practices is greatly increased.
Without education, microcredit may have only a weak positive effect on household food security
and little, if any, impact on improved nutritional status.
The behavioral changes previously illustrated addressed changes to improve participants
and their family's nutritional status, which is important. However, Kabeer (1999) offered
empowerment as a method to address inequalities in relations. In utilizing the Djan CEE
program, this study assesses women's empowerment, using behavioral change as an indicator.
Because longitudinal data do not exist, women's self-perceived health status and behavioral
changes will be assessed and discussed in Chapter 5.
The advantages of integrating microcredit programs with health education include: the
combined use of solidarity group meetings as a forum for collective group and individual
empowerment, participatory non-formal health and nutritional education, and financial training.
Within such a model, participants simultaneously have access to networking and shared health
information, as well as increased financial resources. Such a strategy aims to enhance food
security and nutritional impact while maintaining the financial sustainability necessary for
widespread program expansion (MkNelly & Lippold, 1998).
Furthermore, I found no microcredit assessment studies conducted from the clients'
perspective analyzing the conditions in which women's empowerment led to health or nutritional
behavioral changes among its participants within an urban context. Explorations--within such a
context focusing on the needs of urban poor women client--can prove to be quite different and
apart from studies based on the needs and experiences of participants in a rural context. Urban
West African women have greater access to varied types of microenterprises. The demands on
their time and productive resources are increased. Also, the types of network ties may be
increasingly more varied in such an environment. Therefore, exploring participants' behavioral
changes, as a result of an integrated microcredit with health and nutritional training within an
urban context, warrants closer scrutiny.
Yes or No to Microcredit?
Women in the Sahelian region constitute one of the poorest groups in Africa (Pankhurst &
Johnston, 1999). Measuring the impact of microcredit and intervention services is crucial. The
risk of illness or business failure is more likely to provoke a livelihood crisis for the poor than for
financially better-off borrowers (Johnson & Rogaly, 1997). However, some poor women may
choose not to further increase that risk by using microcredit. Other reasons poor women opt not
to use microcredit or default on existing loans have been shown to include: (a) ongoing personal
and/or family health crises; (b) lack of time to attend weekly meetings; and (c) lack of education
which may compromise the ability of potential clients to understand the advantages of
microcredit programs (Hulme & Moseley, 1996; Noponen, 1987; Pitt & Khandker, 1996).
Illness can make participation in a microcredit program sometimes difficult and risky.
Since women are often caretakers of their household, when they or family members become too
ill to work, it may make repayment an additional hardship. Soaring medical costs can also
prohibit women from participating in microcredit. In Africa, a survey of microcredit participants
found that 95% had trouble paying medical bills, 77% had trouble paying for funerals, and half
had difficulties finding money to look after orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS
Non-participation may also be simply a function of a group or individual decision that
deems microcredit to not be in a woman's best short- or long-term interest. Although credit is
not a new concept in Mali, some women prefer to use more traditional and familiar methods of
generating money and/or resources. Some women customarily go to their husbands, older
brothers, moneylenders, or retail cloth merchants for short-term credit advances. In addition,
some women preferred to continue using rotating credit and savings associations tontiness) in
which group members make regular contributions to a fund that is given in whole or in part to
each member in rotation. This system constitutes a more familiar method of budgeting and
saving money, which in turn can be used for business improvements or as insurance against
family crises (Ardener & Burman, 1995; Kane, 2001; Lewis, 1976; Little, 1970; March &
Taqqu, 1986; Meillassoux, 1968; Wipper, 1995). This more informal method of credit and
saving also appeals to traditional, social, and religious obligations of helping kinsmen, neighbors,
or co-workers in times of emergency. Members have been known to adjust the order of rotation
to allow an unlucky member to receive the "pot" out of turn in times of crisis. This more
traditional credit system may offer benefits of solidarity not present in the more recently acquired
ways of borrowing money or microcredit loans. Moreover, the speed--with which informal
savings associations usually react to their members' needs--can be more meaningful than a
formal transaction of a loan advance (Ardener & Burman, 1995). The surveyed cloth dyers
tended to use microcredit while simultaneously participating in one or several neighborhood
tontines or savings group. This multiple resource strategy will be discussed further in Chapter 3.
Anthropological and Interdisciplinary Literature
Women's associations in West Africa link individual and group needs, and they are a
major resource for networking and collective organizing. For this study, the term "association"
will refer to voluntary and involuntary groups that meet regularly. However, informal
networking individuals (ties) are also included as resources (i.e., market dyers and other traders
in the marketplace and ex-members of associations who remain in contact as resources for one
another). Relevant networking associations include: women's solidarity groups; work
collectives; women's groups organized in support of their microenterprise; and credit and
savings associations tontiness) (Kane, 2001; Schulz & Hashemi, 1993; Wipper, 1995).
Mistakenly, Geertz (1962) predicted that rotating savings associations would fade away as more
developed financial institutions replaced them. However, anthropologists today have disputed
such claims (Ardener & Burman, 1995; Kane, 2001).
An administrator of Nyesigiso, the non-governmental organization (NGO) used in this
study, was instrumental in introducing me to a Credit Association of cloth dyers. The
association consisted of multiple solidarity groups, and was formed as a stipulation of the CEE
program for participation in a microcredit program (more about solidarity groups and Credit
Associations in Chapter 3. This association was unique in that its solidarity groups all shared the
same profession: cloth dyeing. NGOs, as administrators of microcredit programs, typically place
no requirement on the type of occupation or microenterprise the potential client may operate in
order to qualify for a loan. But because the Credit Association of Djan was comprised of all
cloth dyers who had been participating in the CEE program for more than a year, the association
fit the research criteria and became the sample group used for this study.
Mayoux (2000) argued that the strength of women's networking lies at the core of
microfinance schemes. Popularized in the late 1990s, social capital--the gains one acquires
through social relations--became a popular concept of group-lending for risk management in
microcredit programs (members serve as guarantors of each other's loans). Participants of the
CEE program gain social capital through membership and participation in their solidarity group.
Within microcredit programs, solidarity groups serve multiple purposes: (a) members are
guarantors for each other in case of default, (b) some dyers work collectively with other
members, (c) dyers are encouraged to share information learned in the weekly health and
nutritional training, (d) dyers as CEE participants are taught to problem-solve among themselves,
and (e) social networks offer general support and encouragement to each other.
Women's formal and informal networks in both urban and rural contexts provide a means
for members to gain social power and agency. Networks, although useful, may or may not lead
to the formation of an association. However, associations have been known to provide members
with access to needed material resources, as well as practical, emotional, and cognitive support
(Adams et al., 2004; Kane, 2001; Mayoux, 1988). March (1986) stated that some of these
women's associations actively strengthen the economic position of women. Associations are
frequently used as networks from which women learn about work and find jobs. Additionally,
women may forge alliances for both economic and political power in their communities (De
Jorio, 1997; Leis, 1974; March & Taqqu, 1986; McKee, 1989; Mikell, 1997; Modic, 1994).
From different perspectives, the studies of Caughman (1981), De Jorio (1997), and Vaa, Findley,
and Diallo (1989) document the various ways Malian women create networks of cultural,
economic, and political spheres of influence. Although Caughman's study (1981) addressed a
rural context, it mirrored women cloth dyers of urban Bamako, in that women networked to
fulfill their basic economic needs and strove for better access to productive resources. Vaa et al.
(1989) emphasized the migration of individuals from rural areas into Bamako and the use of gift-
giving strategies to lessen social and economic difficulties during their transition into urban life.
Vaa used network analysis to illustrate the importance of social linkages and the flow of
resources within the observed group. Wery's study (1984) is relevant in this context because of
the communal group nature of shared economic contributions made by members living together
in the same domestic compound in Bamako. The study explored urban women's access to
resources, exchange relations, decision-making, and division of responsibilities and resources
within each domestic unit. Wery's conclusion was not surprising in that she discovered that
salaried women with jobs felt they had the most control over their lives, as compared to women
dependent on their husbands or other adult males living in the same compound and shared
resources. DeJorio (1997) explained how women's formal organizing constituted powerful
political lobbies working between state officials and local citizens. The author discussed how
political events were influenced using women's organized group rituals and economic activities.
Clark's (1994) ethnographic account of the Kumasi Central Market, located in Kumasi,
Ghana, focused primarily on market commodity groups--informal sets of stall neighbors and
competitors--which seemed to be more sustainable by local traders than formal groupings of a
hierarchical nature. However, within these commodity groups were traders at the upper end of
the strata who accumulated significant capital by local standards relying heavily on their
customers. Traders on the lower end depended more on collective, personalized relations with
other market traders to help cushion marginal enterprises from possible risks of economic or
personal downfall. Lewis (1976) discovered that organizations of market women operating in
the Treichville market, located in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, have proven far more difficult to
maintain than the many voluntary associations organized within local neighborhoods. The study
observed activities of varied associations inside and outside the market. The study also
examined the impact that women's different cultural backgrounds made in defining strategies by
which to accomplish shared economic goals. Kane (2001) discussed rotating credit and savings
groups and women organizing within local markets of Dakar, Senegal. His research emphasized
how tontines are culturally embedded within intricate systems of reciprocity and social
networking. Whether networking together in urban or rural markets or working individually
from small stalls perched along the shoulder of the road, West African women play a key role as
participants in the informal sector.
Women's Participation in the Informal Sector
Research over the past 30 years demonstrates how vital the informal sector is for the
economic survival of poor women (Berger & Buvinic, 1989). Worldwide, more than 80% of
workers in developing countries and 40% of those in middle-income countries are employed in
the informal sector, both urban and rural (Rekha, 1999). Through this sector, women make a
significant contribution to their national economies. Moreover, in West Africa, the informal
sector provides more consistent economic opportunities for women than the formal sector
(Robertson, 1986). With few wage jobs available and access to education scarce, urban West
African women are often self-employed as traders and artisans working within the informal
sector (Clark, 1994; Kane, 2001; Robertson, 1986). For some, trade can become highly
profitable; however, for most women, petty trading is a survival strategy rather than a profit-
making enterprise (Robertson, 1986). Even in parts of Africa with rapid industrialization,
economic development in most African countries has failed to create enough employment
opportunities to absorb the abundant labor supply (Berger, 1995). Furthermore, when
technology is introduced, accompanying changes tend to undercut conventional informal
activities. In these situations, men are often provided with alternative occupations and training,
whereas women's skills simply become obsolete (Tinker, 1995).
In examining classifications of work, women may be classified as "housewives" and thus
considered outside the labor force accounting system (Mies, 1982; Prugl & Tinker, 1990). But
very often these "housewives" are engaged in a range of supplemental income-earning activities.
Among female-headed households, women are commonly forced to rely on marginal subsistence
strategies in order to fulfill their financial obligations (Tinker, 1990). This is certainly the case in
Mali. It is common to see "housewives" hire young girls from rural areas to work as domestics
while they themselves are busy managing their microenterprise from home or in the nearby
neighborhood market. In talking with CEE participants, they described how they worked at
home while simultaneously caring for their children. However, some cloth dyers enlisted the
help of their younger sisters or female relatives to help care for sick family members or manage
the cleaning and the cooking of meals, usually in exchange for lodging and meals.
The cloth dyers I surveyed often reported that the money they earned was a significant
contribution to their household revenue. Moreover, women's informal work often compensates
for the lack of income from a husband or unemployed adult household members (Vaa, 1995).
Working at home also facilitates women's needs for flexibility and less formal work restrictions.
However, access to formal sources of credit is almost impossible for most micro-entrepreneurs
operating within the informal sector.
Much has been written about health care in Africa. Reports have focused on inexcusably
high infant and mother mortality rates, HIV/AIDS, sanitation, nutrition, and a host of other
human rights crises. Adams et al. (2004) examined the relationships between social networks
and modem contraceptive use among Bamanan women in Mali. Her study demonstrates not
only that social networks influence women's health and reproductive choices, but also women
gain power through their group participation. Gray's (1990) study informed this project in
explaining how his rural primary health research addressed some of the key health issues that
continue to plague rural, illiterate Malian women and their households. Dettwyler's (1995) study
of traditional infant feeding practices and their effect on childhood growth also helped in
identifying possible relevant issues and conditions of childhood health in urban Bamako.
Wallace's edited volume of health care of women and children in developing countries also
provided a needed context of the historical and present-day conditions of health and nutrition of
sub-Saharan peoples. The Simard and DeKoninck (2001) article highlighted women's
responsibilities for the health and welfare of family members.
This chapter outlines the main theoretical discussions, which serve as a framework from
which to understand issues of women's empowerment in the context of their participation in a
microcredit program. The discussion broadly describes the process of implementing
development programs into Mali since the late 1970s. I offer several rationales of microfinance
institutions and their motives for including women in microcredit programs. Within MFIs, I
describe the three different approaches to microcredit: (a) the financial sustainability; (b)
feminist empowerment; and (c) poverty alleviation. Also discussed are the varying perspectives
and definitions of women's empowerment and examples of ways in which it functions. Also
important to this discussion is how women's networks and associations are an integrated part of
life in a West African context. Chapter 3 on Microcredit expands the discussion of the
fundamental differences in the approaches to microcredit and the adaptation of women's social
networks as a vital component to group-lending, and, in particular, the CEE model of microcredit
MICROCREDIT AND HEALTH
TRAINING IN BAMAKO
If you plan for one year grow rice
If you plan for 10 years, grow trees
If you plan for 100 years, educate women.
An anonymous proverb
We want only courageous, ambitious pioneers in our
microcredit program. Those are the ones who will succeed.
Muhammad Yunus (1999)
During my preliminary visit to Bamako in 1999, most market dyers I interviewed had not
participated in a microcredit program, and many were not familiar with them. After returning
three years later to conduct fieldwork, each market dyer I interviewed had either used
microcredit herself or knew of someone who had participated in a microcredit program.
Microcredit programs are primarily funded by international donor agencies. Funding services
are predicted to expand even more throughout West Africa in the future (Mayoux, 2000;
MkNelly & Kevane, 2002). As part of a global effort to eradicate poverty, microcredit programs
have helped otherwise ineligible borrowers qualify for loans for their microenterprises.
As discussed in Chapter 2, there are primarily three systems governing microcredit
programs: (a) financial sustainability; (b) feminist empowerment; and (c) poverty alleviation
approaches. The financial sustainability approach focuses primarily on providing sustainable
financial services as its primary strategy in helping to alleviate poverty. The feminist
empowerment approach sees microcredit programs as an entry point from which to begin explicit
support for women in challenging gender inequality, beginning at the micro level. The poverty
alleviation approach views access to microcredit as part of an integrated program in helping to
alleviate poverty and increase well-being for the poorest households. The microcredit program
assessed for this study, the CEE model, was designed using the poverty alleviation approach.
This study assesses whether or not women's empowerment and behavioral change, if any, were
the result of their participation in the CEE program. The positive aspects of microcredit, the
CEE program, as well as its shortcomings, are discussed throughout this dissertation.
In Mali, cloth dyeing can be a very expensive enterprise to operate. Using the popular
imported cotton cloth, bazin (damask), buying the imported dyeing supplies, and applying the
intricately handmade designs can be very labor-intensive and expensive to produce. Therefore,
cloth dyers typically need larger sums of money, than other female-dominated businesses, to
operate their microenterprise. As mentioned earlier, as a strategy to secure the needed revenue
for their microenterprise, some women dyers go to their husbands, older brothers, or local
moneylenders to acquire loans. Occasionally, male cloth merchants have been known to give
cloth on credit. Some dyers participate in a local tontine (credit and savings groups), as an
investment strategy, and, in turn, receive a lump sum.6 A market dyer commented that she was a
member of a market tontine. She explained that the market tontine that she belonged to was
organized among cloth dyers who operate their business within the market in proximity to each
other. These social relations in turn can create trust and reciprocal bonds that can be as
important as the money that circulates. Of the CEE participants, 71% of its members belonged
5 In Mali, items sold in the open market or street vending are generally gender-specific. Women typically sell hand-
dyed cloth, dried fish, fruits and vegetables, handmade soap, beauty products, prepared food, and small crafts in the
local markets throughout the country. In conjunction with less expensive goods, men sell higher profit items, such
as imported electronics and accessories, large and small appliances, computers and computer supplies, office and
photocopy equipment, office and residential furniture, houseware items, small crafts, books, stationery and paper
supplies, hardware, building and plumbing materials, new and used tires, cars, auto repair parts and accessories,
imported and locally manufactured cloth, new and used clothing.
6 Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs), and Accumulating Savings and Credit Associations
(ASCRAs) or tontines are voluntary savings groups whereby each member deposits an agreed upon sum of money
routinely. Each month (or designated time period) in rotation a different member of the group receives the collected
sum deposited until each member has received the accumulated sum. For further discussion of ROSCAs and
voluntary savings groups, see Kane (2001); Ardener and Burman (1995); and Smets and Bahre (" i '4).
to both their neighborhood tontine while simultaneously participating in a microcredit program,
thereby receiving multiple lump sums spaced throughout the year.
The cloth dyeing profession poses a particular challenge to microcredit lenders. Typically,
the poverty alleviation approach to microcredit employs group-lending. The CEE model utilizes
solidarity groups of small self-selected members who act as loan guarantors against member
default. However, in the case of larger loans, microcredit banks (credit unions) require collateral
from the individual borrower. Since cloth dyers need large sums for operating capital, some
higher income earners have been able to provide the collateral required (i.e., refrigerators, TVs,
car title papers) guaranteeing their individual loans against default. The CEE participants, as
poorer borrowers, usually own no collateralizable items. They therefore are not eligible for the
larger loan amounts needed to make a quantifiable difference in their ability to garner a
recognizable profit. The guidelines for administering microcredit loans via a CEE program will
be discussed in the following section.
Microcredit in Mali
Mali is a member of the Monetary Union of the West African States (UMOA), an
organization comprised of various savings and loan institutions, mostly cooperatives or credit
unions. The organization is responsible for enforcing regulatory policies and guidelines for all
microcredit institutions operating throughout the country. International donors have funded
microcredit projects worldwide for more than 30 years (Begum, Bhuiyan, Davis, Ogusky &
Ziemba, 2000). Undoubtedly, it is the financial sustainability of MFIs that enables lending
institutions to lend greater amounts of money to more borrowers. The vast majority of
microcredit programs in Mali use the financial sustainability approach. Prior to 2003, several
credit unions administered microcredit programs with varied services (i.e., health, literacy,
numeracy, sanitation). Because of reported financial hardships and loss of international donor
support, local credit unions could no longer continue to offer additional services. In Mali,
microcredit services have been in existence since the mid-1980s. In 1989, Freedom From
Hunger (FFH), a California-based NGO, began sponsoring programs in rural Mali. Its first
program was Centre d'Appui Nutritionel et Economique aux Femmes, which provided credit and
savings services to rural residents; at the time, 90% of the borrowers were women (Colleye,
1996). In 1996, FFH began Credit Epargne avec Education (CEE). The CEE program has been
integrated into the credit unions of Nyesigiso and Kafo Jiginew. FFH sponsored other programs
in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Benin. However, by 2002, the year of this study, Nyesigiso was the
only credit union in Bamako administering a CEE program.
Although the Malian constitution assures gender equality, in both the marriage code and
the commercial code limit the rights of Malian women, especially married women, when it
comes to conducting business. The marriage code stipulates that a woman may in principle have
separate activities from her husband (Colleye, 1999). However, certain articles of the code
contradict this right. Article 34 states that the husband is the head of household. Article 35
mandates that a married woman who has a separate profession from her husband is required to
contribute to the payment of household bills. Article 38 sets forth that a married woman cannot
deal in commerce without her husband's authorization. The commercial code further adds to the
constitutional restrictions on a woman's economic activities, requiring a married woman to
obtain her husband's authorization before participating in commercial activities. A Malian
woman also needs written authorization from her husband to get a visa or to travel. In addition,
Malian law prohibits a married woman from opening a business without explicit authorization
from her husband (U.S. Department of State Dispatch, 1994). The Malian constitution has been
revised since the early 1990s, assuring the protection of all Malians without regard to race,
language, sex, or religion. However, established laws and cultural practices often function as
barriers prohibiting women from exercising their rights under the constitution (Colleye, 1999).
Moreover, in some cases Malian women cloth dyers through their microenterprises are
contributing substantially to their household income. Yet, women remain restricted in the types
of jobs they are able to do because of the gender defined values are so resistant to change
(Kristmundsdottir 1999). As discussed further in Chapter 4, with women's increased access to
microcredit caused a saturation of cloth dyers and hand-dyed cloth in the market. This saturation
is also due in part to the gendered division of labor limiting the types of jobs available to women
within the cloth dyeing industry. Granted Mali's is emerging from a historical past, which
dictated specific roles governing what was considered women's work and men's work. As a
result of these gendered defined values, women today, continue to be restricted in their economic
In 2002, Nyesigiso was represented in six regions of the country: Segou, Kayes, Koulikoro,
Sikasso, Tombouctou, and with programs and its headquarters located in Bamako. The USAID
and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA/DID) fund Nyesigiso's CEE
program. There are 46 neighborhood credit unions or branch banks (Caisse d' Epargne) located
throughout the country, providing convenient credit and savings services to urban and rural
communities. Aside from its CEE/CEFA program, Nyesigiso offers varied lending services,
such as loans for general consumption, agriculture, and mortgage (Reseau Mutuale des Caisses
d' Epargne, 2005). Women were nearly half of Nyesigiso 's clientele: 49.9% were female and
38.5% of loans went to women (Reseau Mutuale des Caisses d'Epargne, 2005). Within
Nyesigiso, the CEE program is a small yet lucrative service offered to its poorer clients. By the
end of 2002, USAID/FFH completed its funding contract for the CEE program, expecting
Nyesigiso to be able to manage its program in a financially sustainable fashion. Nyesigiso
continued receiving financial support from CIDA/DID through 2005, CIDA/DID extended
financial subsidies until the end of 2006 (Reseau Mutuale des Caisses d' Epargne, 2005). In
2005, as a result of unstable financial support for the CEE program, Nyesigiso experienced a
decrease in CEE client participation. However, in an attempt to increase financially stability,
Nyesigiso implemented operational fees in addition to the already substantial interest charged to
all CEE loans.7
In 2003, Nyesigiso introduced the Credit Epargne des Femmes d'Affaires (CEFA) program
to enable former CEE participants' access to larger loan amounts (Reseau Mutuale des Caisses
d' Epargne, 2005). The only different to the client between CEFA and the CEE program is the
size of the loan. Both programs use the group-lending method.8 By the end of 2003 and my
field stay, Nyesigiso administrators were desperately seeking new supplemental funding sources
for their CEE/CEFA program. A detailed discussion of Nyesigiso's CEE program is presented in
the following section.
Microcredit and Health/Nutritional Training (CEE/CEFA)
The CEE microcredit program is somewhat of a hybrid of the Grameen Bank and village
banking methods. The first CEE program began in 1996 and sought to serve the poorest women
in a community. Until the past two decades, poor people have been considered unsuitable
borrowers and virtually ignored by formal lending institutions. To address this need, the
7 Nyesigiso instituted additional operational fees to its CEE clients. In addition to charging interest rates of 30%,
CEE participants are required to pay additional new operating costs including: $30 for training, $20 refundable
guarantee, and $20 security fee.
8 With respect to the Djan Credit Association assessed for this study, all participants were initial borrowers of the
CEE program. But, at the time of this study, some participants had advanced to borrowing larger amounts, therefore
becoming CEFA (Credit Epargne avec Education) clients. Throughout this dissertation, I use the terms
"CEE/CEFA" interchangeably referring to Djan CEE and CEFA borrowers.
Grameen Bank and village banking are models that target poorer borrowers. The differences
between the CEE model and the Grameen and village bank models will be discussed below.
Although the Grameen model and village banking have become quite similar over the
years, there are still important distinctions between the two. The Grameen approach is as
screens clients on the basis of socioeconomic characteristics with preference given to the
organizes members into solidarity groups, then combines several groups to form one
gives loans only to a few members at a time to demonstrate repayment performance
before others receive their loans
elects officers from the group, and performs all the necessary recordkeeping for the
The village banking model approach is as follows: (a) does not use a screening process, (b)
extends joint liability throughout the entire group (approximately 20 to 40 members) although
loans are disbursed individually, (c) requires that all loans are due at the same time, and (d) holds
the village bank responsible for the collective loan, which must be paid back before other loans
can be made.
I noted only slight differences between Nyesigiso's CEE program and the Grameen and
village banking models. The CEE Credit Associations (several local solidarity groups
combined) do not use a screening process per se. A field agent, a representative of Nyesigiso's
credit union, is sent into a new neighborhood and interview local community leaders as to the
character of potential women clients who expressed an interest in borrowing money. After
considering all the information about potential clients, the field agent makes a determination as
to who will be invited to join, keeping in mind how group cohesiveness is invaluable in creating
a successful Credit Association. No socioeconomic measures are used in the selection process.
Like the village banking model, all CEE solidarity members are given individual loans at the
same time without having to wait and demonstrate their repayment ability. Moreover, for poorer
women, another issue becomes one of default. Poorer participants are particularly vulnerable to
family crises and market fluctuations. For the "poorest of the poor" loan default can be difficult
and sometimes unfortunately unavoidable. Theoretically, with the CEE/CEFA model, the
responsibility lies within each smaller solidarity group to cover the repayment amount for the
defaulted member. An actual case of default among the Djan Credit Association will be
discussed later in this chapter.
The CEE program's Credit Association meetings were fashioned after tontines, local
informal credit and savings groups. Of the CEE participants, 79% participated in a tontine while
simultaneously using the CEE program. As with tontines, the Credit Association members all
lived in proximity to each other. All members knew each other, either as relatives, friends, or
neighbors. Trust is a major factor in establishing a committed tontine or Credit Association. As
with tontines, Credit Association members elect officers as record-keepers residing over
meetings. A description of the local operation of the Credit Association will be described in the
Women participants in CEE programs are considered to be the "poorest of the poor."9 One
characteristic of the CEE program, which differs from national credit unions, is its potential to
9 Unlike the Grameen Bank model, the CEE program has no screening process. In Mali, most cloth dyers
interviewed were not interested in participating in CEE programs. They commented that the loan size was too
small, and they were not interested in the training the program was offering. A market dyer commented, "That the
amount of time one has to devote to receive such a small loan was not worth the trouble." However, poorer women,
typical CEE participants without access to other resources, use the initial loan ($50US) to create or supplement their
microenterprises. The CEE program makes no stipulation as to the type of microenterprise their clients operate.
better reach relatively poorer households with credit services (Nteziyaremye & MkNelly, 2000).
Nyesigiso 's CEE program does not use wealth-ranking criteria for client selection, as does the
Grameen model. To attract the poorest women, the CEE program stipulates that all initial loan
amounts are small, approximately $50US, and are to be repaid over a 16-week period. In
addition to small loan amounts, the program requires participants to attend weekly meetings and
join a solidarity group in which members serve as loan guarantors. Solidarity group members
are self-selected. Women participants understand they must select the members of their group
carefully. Solidarity groups are therefore comprised of members who know and trust each other
and are willing to act as guarantors on each other's behalf. Such stipulations as borrowing small
loan amounts and mandatory weekly meetings are discouraging and of little interest to women
who are relatively better-off financially. The next section discusses how the CEE program
The overall goal of the CEE program instituted by Freedom From Hunger (FFH) is for
every person to have adequate nutrition and enjoy a full quality of life (Von der Bruegge, 1999).
To meet FFHs goals, CEE programs provide informal educational training in health, nutrition,
family planning, and financial education with the aim of strengthening household survival skills,
improving members' self-confidence and decision-making abilities, and helping to increase
income and experience in developing and managing their own microenterprise (FFH, 1999).
This section draws on empirical and interview data collected from field agents, CEE participants,
and the FFH's Field Agent's Operations Manual. A description of CEE training will be
discussed later in this section.
Based on the FFH model, Nyesigiso's central office in Bamako administers training to all
83 animatrices (field agents). As a job requirement, all field agents, in addition to speaking
Bamanankan, must read, write, and speak French. Nyesigiso employs and trains only women as
field agents. A field agent's salary is equivalent to approximately $254US per month. The
salary can be augmented as much as $95US per month based on performance. The field agent
helps to facilitate the financial success of its Credit Association. Success is measured by Credit
Association member's ability to increase their loan amount and advance to the CEFA status.
Field agents are highly motivated and financially compensated, which acts as a built-in incentive
for field agents to support CEE members in learning ways to earn more money and elevate their
group status. Yet, simultaneously, the field agent is also motivated to promote a member's
continued indebtedness to the credit union/Nyesigiso.
An officer of Nyesigiso explained that having same-sex field agents helped facilitate
informative discussions among its women CEE participants. Topics covered during training
sessions include: health, nutrition, financial issues, and sharing experiences during the weekly
participatory Credit Association meetings. The field agents are responsible for learning how to
investigate, promote, and organize new Credit Associations. At the time of this study, Nyesigiso
employed approximately 22 field agents serving Bamako. Field agents are assigned to
neighborhood credit unions located throughout Bamako, as well as servicing peripheral
communities within approximately a 10-mile radius of the commercial downtown area.
I asked Nyesigiso's CEE Program Coordinator, Awa Fofana, if I could attend and observe
the training sessions designated for field agents. But because of the financial vulnerability of the
program during the period of my fieldwork, no new field agents were hired and no training were
scheduled. Therefore I was unable to observe what was covered as part of the field agent
training. I was also not allowed to attend the once-a-week field agent's meetings held at the
Nyesigiso head office.
Spatial logistics can compromise and add to the challenge of access to microcredit services
for the poor. Field agents are equipped with motorbikes as part of Nyesigiso 's outreach efforts.
Being mobile allows agents to identify and reach potential clients living in inaccessible
communities without access to credit union services. Field agents, in addition to availing
microcredit services to otherwise non-accessible populations, they can offer financial services to
women who work at home.
Figure 3-8. Field agent and CEE/CEFA participants repaying their microcredit loans.
Working with Credit Associations
I accompanied several field agents to their various weekly Credit Association meetings
within their assigned quarter. As a strategy to keep program delivery costs low, the field
agents were trained to conduct multiple tasks. In addition to the duties discussed above, the field
agents were representatives of the neighborhood credit union and program facilitators. It was
informative getting to know different field agents and learning how they managed their assigned
Dependent on the field agent, the weekly Credit Association meetings varied greatly in
terms of productivity. Awa, one of the field agents I accompanied, was initially reluctant to
allow me to observe her working with her association. My assistant later revealed that Awa
suspected I was hired to spy on her and to report back to her supervisor. Through much
reassurance, my research assistant was able to convince her that my work was in no way
connected to Nyesigiso. She finally agreed to allow me to observe one of the Credit Associations
under her jurisdiction. Awa, a married woman in her late 30s, remained cautious and aloof
during our time together. She would often arrive late, unorganized and unprepared to facilitate
the weekly association meetings. The Credit Association members commented on her general
lack of focus. As a result of Awa's inattentiveness, the members also showed a disinterest:
coming to meetings late and some would leave the meetings early.
The weekly meetings are mandatory for all participants. But Awa's association meetings
had a high rate of repeat absenteeism, approximately 4:18. As a rule, when someone is absent, a
co-member brings the absentee member's payment to the meeting and states the reason for her
absence. During the month while observing one of Awa's Credit Association meetings and after
the loan repayments were completed, the members often spent the remaining time complaining
about other members. I observed certain vocal members rallying for support to vote other
members out of the Credit Association for the next loan cycle. After much discussion, the group
conceded that certain members were slow in repaying their defaults and needed to be excluded
from participating in the next loan cycle. After a month of weekly visits, I asked Awa why there
had been so few training sessions. She commented that the Credit Association was coming to an
end of a difficult loan cycle. The members were frustrated and discouraged. Business had been
slow with meager profits, and finding money for loan repayment had been hard. The association
members disclosed that they sometimes had other income-generating activities. Some members
made soap, sold fruits, vegetables, and managed an array of different activities in an attempt to
augment their scarce incomes. Awa added, "When money is scarce during the hot and into the
rainy season, it's difficult for everyone."
I observed Credit Associations managed by several field agents before locating one that
met the research criteria for this study: CEE members who were cloth dyers and had participated
in a CEE program for at least one year. Finally, in Djandijigula, I found a Credit Association
comprised of long-term CEE participants. All members were also cloth dyers. Fatoumata, the
field agent, facilitated the Credit Association. Fatoumata was a married 41-years old woman--
mature, confident, and very professional. She arrived at the Credit Association meetings on time
and was consistently well organized. She mentioned often how much she enjoyed her work.
Because of her facilitation of the Djan Credit Association, she became well known and respected
throughout the quarter, Magnamabougou. During my initial visit to the Djan Credit
Association meetings, Fatoumata introduced my research assistant and I to the group. She
encouraged me to ask questions. With my assistant's help in translating, she explained the
research project to the Credit Association members. After my second visit to the site and
observing the Djan Credit Association, I asked if the members would participate in the study.
All the members of the Credit Association unanimously agreed to participate in the research
Field Agent and Outreach into a New Community
A field agent initiates several steps in starting a Credit Association in a new area. First,
she becomes familiar with the community. She then promotes Credit with Education (CEE)
services and benefits. Finally she organizes Credit Association groups.
The field agent first determines whether or not the community is in a good location for a
Credit Association, which may be based on past successes of other Credit Associations located in
adjacent outlining areas. For the purpose of this discussion, I define "community" as a group of
people linked together having a shared commonality, which includes, yet not limited to, the
residents of Djandijigula, including market dyers and home-based dyers. To become familiar
and assess the Djan community's infrastructure, the field agent draws a map similar to the
sample diagram of Figure 3-1. In the case of the Djan community, she would draw common
locators pertinent to the neighborhood, pointing out all roads leading in and out of the area
(noting those which may be dangerous during certain seasons making access difficult). The field
agent also includes bridges and streams, and notes the weekly regional markets, health center or
clinic, school, distance to the municipal or community center. Other important details may
include: main roads, smaller tertiary roads, the distance between other communities with existing
Credit Associations and travel time between them. She also includes the surrounding
communities in the area and makes visits to neighboring communities. She notes major features
of each community (i.e., mosques and distinct or historic buildings). She also studies the area in
question, making frequent visits to the location. She gets acquainted with local community
organizations or groups that exist and notes the services offered by the government or local
NGOs. She becomes familiar with the physical environment and determines if travel to the
community would be possible year around. She learns about non-agricultural economic
activities, and she estimates the population size of the overall commune district, as well as the
local neighborhood community. She learns who the commune administrative leaders are and if
they have any experience with microcredit loans and/or access to formal credit systems. She also
assesses the status of community relationships: the cohesiveness between the local leadership
and potential clients. Fatoumata, who lives in Magnambougou, was already familiar with the
officials of the commune and other local organizations. The CEE training curriculum also
encourages participants to make use of the services and opportunities located within and around
their community (i.e., taking part in community meetings, elections, joining local civic
organizations, and planning activities together).
Figure 3-1. A field agent's community map showing markets, schools, clinics, roads, and
bridges. Von der Bruegge and Stack (1999). Cl edit I i th Education: Field Agent Operations
Manual. Freedom From Hunger, p. 16.
Promotion of the CEE Program
After the field agent determines a location to be potentially viable, the agent identifies
three steps in promoting a Credit Association in the community. First, she identifies the
community leaders (i.e., commune administrators or representatives, local neighborhood elders).
If she does not already know them, she asks someone to make the appropriate introductions. In
meeting with community leaders and other non-official leaders, the field agent gets to know
them and they get to know her. She explains the CEE program at length (i.e., how it is
organized, how it functions, and the benefits of joining). The field agent responds to community
members' questions and concerns.
Second, the field agent asks leaders to sponsor a meeting among women members of the
community to explain how the program works, membership benefits, the purpose and nature of
organization and function of solidarity groups, and how a Credit Association is formed. Third, in
the meeting of interested female members, the field agent makes contact with women interested
in forming a solidarity group (five women). The field agent explains how the solidarity group
works and the responsibilities of joining. All members are evaluated for their potential for
success at generating income and making timely loan repayments. Each member guarantees
each other's loan repayment (principal and interest) in case of default.
This procedure was described in discussions with multiple field agents. However,
Fatoumata's situation was somewhat different. She was introduced to the neighborhood first by
her friend, the wife of the chief of Djandijigula. The chiefs wife, Kadiatou, was very active in
her community and was also curious about microcredit. She knew other women traders from the
local market who had experience using microcredit. Kadiatou hosted a meeting for Fatoumata to
meet with local women in the neighborhood and learn more about the microcredit program. The
second meeting took place at the commune representative's office; other interested community
women were invited. Kadiatou and a few friends attended the second meeting, wanting to learn
more. The women began telling their friends and the interest grew throughout the neighborhood.
Several of the interested women had friends who had previously used microcredit. Interested
women were encouraged to form their self-selected solidarity group among those they trusted
and respected. The field agent made a list of all potential solidarity group members. Initially,
the field agent asked varied community members about the women who were interested in
forming a solidarity group and joining the credit union. The goal is to seek character references
by asking if the potential members are honest, hard-working members of the community. The
community references gave additional reassurance that the members selected will work well
together in guaranteeing each other's loan.
Organizing the Credit Association
The field agent combines four to six solidarity groups to create one Credit Association.
Ideally, a Credit Association has between 25 and 30 members. Because of the size of the group,
some communities have more than one Credit Association. Initially, two CEE groups were
formed in the Djandijigiula community (Djan I and Djan II). The Credit Association of Djan I
started in 1997 and Djan II in 1999. In 2002, the members of Djan II decided to disband. Soon
after the disbandment, the members who wanted to continue decided to combine members from
both associations to form one Credit Association hereinafter called Djan. Now that the market
was inundated with cloth dyers, the price of hand-dyed cloth fell, which resulted in the cloth
dyers earning less profit. The cloth dyers of Djan II decided that using microcredit became too
risky. Paying back their loans at high interest rates and fees, amounting to approximately 33%
annually, decreased their profit even more. The members of Djan II felt using microcredit was
no longer in their best interest and the group disbanded.
CEE/CEFA Training Sessions
Nyesisigo 's CEE Program Coordinator, Awa Fofana commented that the two key
components of a strong CEE program are motivation and training. She stressed that,
field agents need to be energetic and dynamic, believe in the capabilities
of the Credit Association members, and be good facilitators, communicators,
She emphasized that,
a good field agent needs to be patient, diligent in her supervision of the Credit
Association, and be attentive in identifying possible challenges of the group early
on. The field agent needs to cultivate an environment where members become
skilled problem-solvers within their community.
The CEE participants met weekly for 17 consecutive weeks. The initial week of the loan
cycle was for conducting administrative business and loan disbursement. The following 16
weeks would combine consecutive training and loan repayment. Annually, the Credit
Association meets for three consecutive cycles or 51 weeks. After each year of operating, the
Credit Association votes whether to continue meeting or disband.
The Credit Association of Djan met weekly in the same location, the yard compound of a
CEE participant. The compound consisted of several one-room adobe bungalows forming a
semi-circle. Each adult family member shared her one- or two-room bungalow with her spouse
and children. The bungalows serve as a sleeping and storage room. The wife and children spent
their day working and socializing outdoors in the communal yard. All meals were prepared over
an open flame in the courtyard. The courtyard was equipped with a well and outdoor latrine.
Before each weekly meeting, women of the host family would be in the courtyard quickly
finishing their morning chores. Some women were washing and hanging clothes to dry on the
clothesline, washing pots and utensils from the morning breakfast, or collecting water from the
communal well. All morning chores took place before the nine o'clock meeting.
As the members arrived, they would sit in the designated area of the yard in a semi-circle
around a small table with several chairs reserved for the field agent and the Credit Association
officers. Colorful, locally manufactured mats were spread on the ground around the table for
members to sit on. As members arrived, they greeted each other and exchanged the local news.
The meeting started shortly after the field agent arrived. The meeting would start by the elected
Credit Association president and treasurer. The treasurer assisted the field agent in taking
attendance and in collecting the weekly loan repayments.
Ideally, the CEE model fosters a self-management component whereby the group's elected
officers keep all records of individual loan repayments and savings transactions. However,
Fatoumata, the field agent, closely monitored the Credit Association officers, who were also
senior members of the group. There were approximately four literate, senior Credit Association
members who rotated and shared leadership roles throughout the year. A senior woman may
also substitute for an officer if one or both could not attend a meeting (i.e., weddings, naming
ceremonies, or funerals) or if they were traveling.
Due to the success of a senior member, Kadia, a few of the other Credit Association
members had since begun planning to travel to sell their hand-dyed cloth in other markets in
Dakar. Kadia explained that solidarity group members may sometimes work collectively to
augment her cloth inventory to sell in Dakar, then split the profit once she returned.
Furthermore, in recent months, Credit Association members have established trade relations with
Malian market traders, living and working in Dakar who, in turn, would sell the Credit
Association's dyed cloth throughout the year in exchange for a small profit.
The Credit Association of Djan, at the time of this study, there were approximately 40 to
44 participants, however, only 32 members were presently active. The remaining members
attended the weekly training but maintained a non-active status, meaning, they were not
presently repaying a loan. Assistou, a non-active member commented that as a result of the
educational training, she learned a lot about how to care for her family when health and financial
issues arose. The non-active members voluntarily continued to participate in the weekly training
sessions and depositing money into their savings accounts.
Fatoumata was trained to facilitate the topics for all the sessions: financial, health/
nutritional, and self-confidence training. For the informal educational training, Fatoumata drew
on members' personal experiences in teaching the lessons to the primarily illiterate group. She
told situational stories about a chosen topic then posed "what if" questions to encourage the
members to share their experiences about the issue or problem. When Fatoumata was confident
the members understood the topic or problem, she would personalize the topic by asking if the
situation had ever happened to them.
While observing the sessions, I realized the members had repeated the training sessions
multiple times, yet some seemed less familiar with the stories than others. The responses varied.
In addition, the experienced senior members were more vocal and demonstrated a clearer
understanding of most topics covered. In contrast, some members seemed vocal with certain
topics (i.e., financial information) and less vocal or sure of themselves with other topics.
Fatoumata admitted to often varying the story details slightly. She stated that altering the story--
but maintaining the core premise--challenged members to create new and different possible
outcomes. Sometimes this strategy worked and members were able to respond given the
directional shift; sometimes they did not respond. Changing the plots also helped keep the
members engaged. She would routinely call on quieter, less responsive members, those who
were shy and participated less frequently in the discussions.
Fatoumata realized that if the training sessions were to be effective in initiating behavioral
change, participants must be encouraged to reflect on their problems, ask questions, and gain the
necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. It was interesting to note sessions where
members would describe what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation.
Their responses often demonstrated an understanding and retention of the material covered from
the previous week's training. One member might draw on her own personal experience, which I
inferred to mean that members had been adapting the learned behavior into her everyday routine.
Health Education Training
In 1992, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced children's health goals
to be attained by 2000. The health goals were: (a) eradication of polio; (b) elimination of
neonatal tetanus; (c) a 90% reduction in death due to measles; (d) achievement and maintenance
of at least 90% coverage of 1-year-old children and tetanus in women of childbearing age; (e)
halving of child deaths caused by diarrhea and a 25% reduction in the incidence of diarrhea
diseases; (f) one-third reduction in children's deaths caused by acute respiratory infections; and
(g) elimination of guinea worm disease. In joining UNICEF's efforts, the World Summit for
Children conferred with governments and agencies of the United Nations in considering feasible
and financially affordable goals for the future decade (Wallace, 1995). The FFH adopted three
key components of UNICEF's vision: (a) reduce infant mortality; (b) improving nutrition; and
(c) child health and protection for girls and women. These topics were incorporated into the
curriculum design of FFH's integrated CEE program. This section discusses the health and
nutritional training of FFH's educational program and its efforts to educate poor women. As a
result of the informal education, CEE participants then empower themselves with the ability to
make enhanced choices with respect to their health and the well-being of their families. The
term "enhanced choice" refers to the participants increased ability to make informed choices as a
result of their long term exposure to health and nutritional training.
As an integrated program, the CEE health and nutritional training were delivered in
conjunction with financial credit services to the Djan Credit Association during the mandatory
weekly meetings. Integrating services and using field agents taught to facilitate all the training
sessions kept the training costs to a minimum. Integrating the services (i.e., health, sanitation,
nutrition, and financial) meant that the Credit Association members did not have to go to
multiple sites for other services. The services, therefore, posed less of a burden on members'
already overtaxed time. As previously mentioned, the duration of the loan cycle was 17 weeks.
The first week the loans are disbursed and the training sessions start the following week. The
subjects covered consist of seven to eight health and nutritional sessions, followed by three to
five business development sessions, and then self-confidence development.
The topics covered in the health and nutritional training focused on: how to detect and treat
diarrhea in children. Diarrhea prevention was taught because the illness is the second leading
cause of infant and child deaths worldwide (FFH, 1999; Wallace, 1995). However, if caught
early, diarrhea and its associated illnesses can be treated. Oral re-hydration solution (ORS) is a
low-cost, simple method of preventing dehydration, the most dangerous aspect of diarrhea,
which can otherwise lead to death or child malnutrition. Breast-feeding is taught to be preferable
to bottle-feeding. Fatoumata explained that breast-feeding was covered in the training because
breast milk is the most nutritious food a baby can have. She also mentioned that breast-feeding
protects the baby against diarrhea and other common illnesses. Feeding an infant only breast
milk during the first six months is also a natural method of birth spacing. The participants
learned that bottle-feeding, especially in poor countries, can be a serious threat to the lives and
health of millions of children. Bottle-feeding can cause illnesses such as diarrhea unless the
water is boiled and the bottle is sterilized before each use (FFH, 1999). Infant and child feedings
were a focus of the training because the wise use of locally available foods can be the best and
least expensive medicine to prevent hunger and malnutrition. Family planning, birth spacing,
and limiting family size were also session topics. Birth spacing and timing were discussed
because they are the most powerful ways of improving the health and nutritional status of
women and children (FFH, 1999). Child immunization was covered in the training because it
protects a child against some of the most dangerous childhood diseases that can also lead to
hunger and/or malnutrition. Awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS were also covered in the
health training sessions. The topics covered in the health and nutritional training emphasized the
caring for children and mothers of childbearing age. The median age of the Djan Credit
Association members is 43 years old. Many members commented that although most of their
children were young teens or adults, the health training was helpful in teaching members how to
discuss the information with their family, as well as learning to care better for their children's
While observing multiple Credit Associations, I noticed some agents seemed empathetic
toward their group members, sometimes staying around after the meetings to discuss unresolved
individual or group issues. Some agents were lenient with the mandatory attendance rules and
excused members as long as their repayment for that week had been collected. One field agent
when a member was unable to pay, she was shamed and loss face. She left the group
before the loan cycle ended.
The agent expressed remorse because she did not know where the defaulted member lived
(agents are required to know where all members live). In the case of the tontine, which
microcredit solidarity groups are modeled after, mutual trust and closeness of its members for
decades has served as an effective means of social control and assurance against default (Kane,
2001). However, the difference between microcredit and popular financial arrangements of local
tontines may be that an institution cannot duplicate the type of close bond and trust that develops
between tontine members. In the case of tontines all monies originate from members and not
from an impersonal lending institution. In the case of a microcredit solidarity group's inability to
cover their member's default, the larger Credit Association is responsible and pays the defaulted
Fatoumata managed a cohesive and responsive Credit Association. None of the other
Credit Associations I observed had been together longer than the Djan group. Several factors
may have contributed to Djan's longevity:
Members seemed to get along relatively well in a group setting
All members shared the same profession, cloth dyeing
Fatoumata socialized and attended ceremonies hosted by Credit Association members
Members trusted Fatoumata's advice; she was valued and respected by the group
42% of the members of the same solidarity group (usually family members) worked
together and earned money collectively
The members' vulnerability to economic and health risks could also have created a bond,
offering a sense of security. Other associations I observed did not seem as focused or cohesive.
Because of the varied occupations of most association members, groups did not typically work
together. The Djan Credit Association members seemed well suited. However, occasionally
incidences brought disagreements and chaos. Different group dynamics will also be discussed
later in this section.
Fatoumata's dedication and commitment to the group resulted in the Credit Association
expressing its confidence in her. Members would confide in her about personal matters having
nothing to do with her capacity as their field agent. She was known to stop by on non-meeting
days to check on a member in crisis. Fatoumata also encouraged members to learn from each
other. She reminded the Credit Association that the senior members had several years of
experience with the health-training curriculum. She encouraged the less experienced junior
members to call on these senior members during the week if a health crisis arose. For example,
if a mother detected her infant child having a runny stool, she might call on a senior Credit
Association member for help if she is unsure about what to do.
In facilitating the informal health and nutritional sessions, the training sessions were taught
by discussing the curriculum topics. During the session, Fatoumata would remind participants of
their immediate resource--each other--as well as encourage the members to use the local health
clinic. Fatoumata also told members to develop good relationships with clinic workers.
Fatoumata was technically available only one day a week; members were encouraged to solve
their own problems by helping each other.
Observations of the CEE/CEFA Program
Fatoumata was a highly motivated field agent, but from week to week the overall
productivity of the meetings was at times inconsistent. For example, if during a slow season
cloth dyers were experiencing a financially difficult period, it was not uncommon to spend most
of the meeting completing the financial business of loan reimbursement. As a result, members
became distracted and restless, rendering the remaining meeting time unproductive and unfocus.
During those times, if Fatoumata failed to intervene by setting the group on a directed path, she
would lose control of the group and members would begin to chatter among themselves; some
members would often leave before the meeting was officially over. Administrative problems
(i.e., resolving default issues) also seemed to cause morale problems, and members became
divided and judgmental. Once Kadia, an elected official of the Djan Credit Association, spoke
up, "We cannot pay for others' mistakes." It seemed many of the members began siding with
Kadia and started withdrawing their support for the defaulted member. It was not clear if the
dissension was directed at the default member specifically or if the group members, in general,
felt too financially vulnerable and frustrated in their inability to cover the default.
In a situation such as guaranteeing the loans of others, trust is an important issue. Safiatou,
24, a single mother added, "They [Nyesigiso] tell you that if one of you does not pay, the group
will pay and you sign a paper. If one of you is sick, or passes away, they don't care about the
reason. You still have to pay. Sometimes, if one of us fails, it pulls the rest down." Mamou, 45,
agreed, "If one person makes progress, it helps everyone. If you're doing well and your friend
isn't, it's like you're doing nothing."
Some members from the same solidarity group seem to have a closer rapport among
themselves than with other members of different solidarity groups within the same Credit
Association. There may be many reasons why members share a strong rapport. West African
women, Malians in particular, use the solidarity of their network ties to meet social and
professional needs. The organization of women's groups predates the colonial era in Africa.
Within the context of microcredit programs, members come together around common goals of
social learning, the exchange of information and ideas within a network (Kohler, Behrman &
Watkins, 2001). Microcredit solidarity groups, in principal, select friends and family members.
They have a sense of each other's financial abilities. However, since a Credit Association
consists of several solidarity groups, and as complex human groups, members of different groups
may not always feel compelled to extend themselves financially to the larger association in
which they may or not share as close a bond.
Within these institutionally configured groups, trust can be difficult to sustain, especially
after multiple member defaults. However, it is the field agent's responsibility to continue to
foster an environment whereby members continue to recognize and support their intra-group
dependence. Maintaining intra-group dependence may be difficult given the financial
vulnerability of CEE/CEFA participants. Additionally, some smaller solidarity groups seemed
more financially stable than others. Kadia, 42, said that her solidarity group was stronger
financially at certain times of the year more than at other times. Oumou, 43, Kadia's co-wife,
explained, "We can count on each other, everyone else is not the same." Sustaining group trust
also seems difficult to sustain because Credit Association membership can be fluid and always
changing. Even with the Djan Credit Association, the junior members had been participating for
a minimum of three years, but some were not always active in every loan cycle. Some of the
original Djan Credit Association members withdrew from participating in the CEE/CEFA
program for various reasons. Some moved from the area, some stopped selling on a regular
basis, and cloth dyers new to the community would join the group. One CEE participant left the
Credit Association at the end of a cycle because her husband decided to move the family to
According to FFH guidelines, the field agent is ultimately responsible for the record-
keeping of all loans dispersed to each CEE participant. However, as part of the program's goal
of self-reliance, the Credit Association's elected officers were to be trained by the field agent to
manage their own organization. In theory, passing on the record-keeping tasks solely to the
Credit Association officials to manage for themselves sounds practical. But while observing the
Djan weekly meetings, the four able Credit Association officials had limited arithmetic skills. It
appears unlikely that the members could manage the record-keeping tasks successfully without
assistance. Moreover, as part of a complex web of poverty, poorer women surveyed from this
community had little or no formal education. The likelihood of the "poorest of the poor" some
day being able to manage the record-keeping of its Credit Association--without numeracy or
literacy intervention services--seemed doubtful.
During one of the weekly meetings, I witnessed a member default on her loan repayment.
She also did not attend the Credit Association's meeting that week. Fatoumata sent a member of
her solidarity group to her house to collect her payment. The solidarity member returned without
the payment. The solidarity group she belonged to was then expected to pay the default. But
that week the solidarity group was unable to cover the repayment amount. Fatoumata then
insisted that the Credit Association was required to help make the repayment. Eventually after
much discussion, the Credit Association reluctantly paid the default.
After the incident, Fatoumata told me that the wealthier Credit Association members pay
the majority of the infrequent defaulted loans. As a policy of group-lending, if the solidarity
group is unable to pay, and if the Credit Association does not repay the default, the group would
be banned from ever borrowing money again from Nyesigiso. Fatoumata later added that at the
end of the loan cycle, the financially stronger members left the Credit Association. This was a
When members became financially stronger as a result of increased access to resources
(i.e., microcredit, business training, and/or increased business revenue), they tend to need less
support from group-lending. Once members became wealthier, and gained access to
collateralizable assets, they preferred borrowing individual loans. In cases such as this group-
lending may become less attractive for two reasons: (a) training takes too much time away from
productive or reproductive activities; and (b) the financial strain of being expected to pay for less
able members was no longer attractive. Unfortunately, when they leave the group, they also take
their expertise with them. Fatoumata explained that when a member had a "good week," she
would ask that member to share with the association what she did that made her outcome a
financial success. As with Kadia, her first trip to Dakar selling her hand-dyed cloth proved to be
a profitable venture. She returned home to Bamako excited with possibilities of future trips.
Upon her return, she shared her experience with her solidarity group. The good news spread.
After the second trip, other members began talking about wanting to take trips. However, some
members' husbands did not think it was safe and refused to allow their wives to travel so far.
Moreover, a Malian woman needs written authorization from her husband to get a visa to travel
(U.S. Department of State Dispatch, 1994). Kadia explained the trips were not without
problems. The trip from Bamako to Dakar, by train is two-days long. At Kayes, a town at the
Malian border, customs officers searched her bags and after discovering her inventory, they
would silently demand a bribe. If she refused, they threatened to take her merchandise. She
having to pay something to officials going to Dakar and again on the return
trip to Bamako [traveling with merchandise bought in the Dakar markets]
meant less profit.
Experienced market dyers made their business by traveling back and forth to neighboring
countries selling hand-dyed cloth and other merchandise. They were therefore not as excited
about the venture as the newcomer, Kadia. Some dyers told stories of having their merchandise
stolen. The bribes would sometimes increase dramatically, making the venture sometimes less
than profitable. The experienced dyers explained how traveling to sell their wares could be a
very risky business. They could sometimes sell their cloth in Senegal for more than a 100%
mark-up, depending on the time of the year. One market cloth dyer commented, "After
subtracting expenses, some trips you can be lucky and make a good profit and other times not.
The experience with every trip is different."
Members Discuss Their CEE Program Participation
During interviews and informal conversations with CEE participants about what they
learned in the educational training the wealthier members openly talked about their financial
successes. Oumou, 43, a senior member of the Djan Credit Association, learned of the CEE
program through a neighbor, Kadiatou, the wife of the chief of Djanguilia. She has five adult
children and takes care of one of her grandchildren. She is the first of three co-wives. Her
mother-in-law taught her to dye cloth 18 years ago. She works in a collective of 10 dyers, three
of the members are her daughters. In addition to her savings as an active CEE participant, she
belongs to two tontines. She is building a house from the profits of her cloth dyeing business.
Her husband lives and works in France. Oumou commented that the microcredit loans were
helpful, yet difficult. She cited the repeated complaints made by other Credit Association
members: (a) the payback period began too soon after receiving the loan; (b) interest rates are too
high; the maximum loans available are too small; and (c) the maximum loan amount is too small
(equivalent to $600US). When I asked her to give specifics from the training that she found
useful, she quickly said, "Having a savings was a benefit." As a senior member and as her
savings grew, she was eventually able to use it as collateral to increase the size of her microcredit
loan. She also said, "[I was] happy to learn to cook food for my grandson." She also mentioned
that she is paying the school fees for her grandson.
Mariam, 28, is a younger, inexperienced cloth dyer and member of the Credit Association
since 2001. Her mother taught her how to dye cloth 13 years ago, however, she only began
selling hand-dyed cloth since joining the Credit Association. She is married with two children.
She works collectively with six other women. She said, "My son does not cry like before. I feed
my children porridge." The type of porridge served was a food suggested in the nutritional
training as a locally grown nutritious food that is cheap and easy to prepare. She mentioned she
stopped feeding her newborn soft food during the first six months and returned to giving the
infant only breast milk.
The Credit Association proved to be an important networking resource for members to
learn from each other. Mariam said the senior members told stories and encouraged younger
members about the importance of putting money aside. Mariam added, "I learned to grow my
savings." Ramata, 43, said her sister-in-law taught her to dye cloth 20 years ago. She comes
from a family of five dyers. She is the first of two co-wives and has 10 children. Ramata
belongs to a tontine. She learned about the CEE program through the field agent coming to Djan
to discuss the program. She joined the CEE program six years ago. As a senior member,
Ramata said, "We learned a lot. The training showed us a lot of things about health care and
how to take care for our families. In return, we shared what we learned with our sons' wives.
The children had fewer incidents of diarrhea." Ramata explained that through the years of
participating in the Credit Association, she realized she missed fewer days from work for herself
or from family illnesses. She commented,
It also taught us to create our own business to support ourselves and how to pay
back the loan. Now the problem is that the bazin we sell--the price has dropped.
It used to be more expensive. But now there are more dyers and the market is full
of bazin, the selling price dropped which means less of a profit for us.
An angry member spoke up,
The Department of the Environment wants us to dig a hole and get rid of the used
chemical dye water. We are saving money to get the work done, but if we decide
to work, we have to give the officials something on the side to keep from having to
pay $100,OOOCFA ($200US) fine. Because we cannot eat all our expenses, we are
unable to work. Now we just sit around. These are the expenses that keep us from
paying back the loan that the bank does not know about.
Another Credit Association member commented that she was the only market cloth dyer
selling in an unlikely section of the market. She became secretive and would not mention the
exact location or specify which market. She did not welcome competition from other cloth dyers
staking a claim to her newly discovered spot in the market.
In this chapter, I discussed the history of microcredit programs in Mali and how the
majority of the country's NGOs that administer microcredit programs subscribe to the financial
sustainability approach. Nyesigiso was chosen for this study because it was the only NGO in
Bamako during the time of my field-stay that administered an integrated health and nutritional
training combined with a microcredit program, the CEE model. In the CEE programs, the
trained field agents play a pivotal role in the success of a Credit Association. They are trained to
motivate, encourage, and educate CEE participants. Participants themselves have mixed
emotions about their CEE program. Some complained about the interest rates being too high, the
payback period starting too soon after loans were dispersed, and the loan amounts too small.
Due to the saturation of cloth dyers in the market and with the price of hand-dyed cloth
plummeting, some low-volume dyers decided microcredit borrowing was no longer in their best
interested and decided to disband. In Chapter 4, ethnographic accounts illustrate whether or not
CEE participants experienced enhanced choice and behavioral changes as a result of long-term
exposure to the program.
DYEING AS A WAY OF LIFE
It's the kiss of the Bamako sun that makes Mali a good place for cloth dyeing.
Madame Cisse, a prominent cloth dyer
To enter an open-air market in Bamako is to experience an awakening of one's senses to
the boldness of color, sound, and the lively atmosphere of the hustle and bustle of everyday
commerce. The market aisles are full of many men and women draped in vividly colored
boubous (long flowing gowns) made of the popular imported cloth, bazin, an embossed polished
cotton manufactured in Europe and China. Other women traders can be seen wearing colorful
cotton fabric of wax-print designs. Tissu Alley (street of cloth) is the name of the section in
Bamako's central market, Marche Rose where women traders place their stands of cloth at the
opening and along both sides of the narrow alley. Their individual stands overflow with high
piles of folded, neatly pressed, hand-dyed bazin, wrapped in protective plastic packets. The
packets of colorful cloth are displayed in huge round aluminum tub containers ready for
Male cloth retailers with large inventories sell the popular African print cotton fabric
manufactured locally in Segou by Compagnie Malienne de Textiles (COMATEX), as well as the
more expensive quality--imported wax prints from Holland and elsewhere. In the marketplace,
women traders interact with diverse customers, including traders from neighboring countries
who return home to resell the popular hand-dyed cloth for profit. Walking through the market, a
passerby can hear the sounds of the predominant language of Bamako, Bamanankan,
intermingled with other languages, such as Pulaar, Songhai, Saracole, and French.
Cloth dyeing is a large and potentially lucrative industry for Malian women. Some cloth
dyers have earned reputations as skilled artisans and highly respected entrepreneurs. Women
cloth dyers have a substantial commercial presence in Marche Rose. They can also be found
selling their wares throughout the commercial districts of Bamako, as well as in markets
throughout the country.
Today, Chinese manufacturers are major textile exporters to Mali. The Chinese make an
imitation bazin that looks identical to the European premium, first quality Bazin Riche. But
because of its affordable price, China's second and third quality bazin is very popular.
Moreover, the vast majority of bazin worn, in Mali, is of the less expensive second and third
quality. Prominent dyers are quick to remark that the color and durability of the cheaper bazin is
not as good as the first quality cloth imported from Europe. Some home-based dyers tend to
counsel their clients against buying the third quality, particularly when placing a custom order
for an intricate, labor intensive, expensive design. They warn their clients that the third quality
does not wear well, the cloth does not thoroughly absorb the dye, and the colors eventually fade.
Madame Basse, a prominent cloth dyer, confidently asserted, "To have an intricate, labor-
intensive design made with inferior quality bazin is a waste of money."
Urban and rural Malians wear the hand-dyed cloth to funerals, weddings and naming
ceremonies, important political meetings and other special occasions, and national holidays (i.e.,
Tabaski, an Islamic holiday). For such occasions, some give cloth as a gift. Bintou Toure, a
prominent dyer, explained, "Cloth is the most important thing money can buy." Some Malians
wear bazin of all qualities as part of their everyday attire. A prominent dyer described, "It does
not matter how poor you are, if you love something, you will always find a way to get it. When
there is a celebration, some clients will do anything to get their bazin." Another cloth dyer
explained, "Days approaching a celebration, we really make money because at that moment
everybody wish to have new clothes made from bazin." Because of the popularity of hand-dyed
cloth, rich and poor alike wear it. However, it is not necessary that all hand-dyed bazin is
expensive or has an intricate design. Moussa Ba, a senior prominent wholesale and retail cloth
Wearing bazin gives value to people. Can't you see? Now all our leaders wear it?
They have left their European jackets, coats, and nylon ties for the benefits of bazin.
It started more than 30 years ago with Moussa Traore, a former head of state, wearing
bazin. Nowadays, we can see on TV, leaders of Gabon, Congo, and Nigeria wearing
A prominent dyer, Aminata Sawane, explained that Malian women like to wear bright,
bold colors with vibrant and complex patterns, while men tend to favor darker, muted, solid
colors without designs. She believes that color and design are key elements the majority of
customers consider in evaluating the cloth. Unless otherwise stated, the focus of this study is on
hand-dyed bazin (of varying qualities).
Figure 4.1. Cloth dyer displaying her inventory in Tissu Alley.
The Cloth Dyeing Industry
Mali has a long history of cloth dyeing (Hodder, 1980; Roberts, 1984). For centuries,
dyers used plants, mud, and kola nuts for dyeing cloth (Polakoff, 1980; Rovine 2001). However,
most present-day cloth dyers use synthetic materials, such as imported powdered dyes, to create
a broader range of colors and hues. Hydrosulfate and caustic powder are used to set the color.
The cloth dyers discussed in this study use the popular commercial powdered dyes.
In Bamako I heard stories of the distant past that Malian women traveled to other places to
learn different techniques of cloth dyeing that are presently used in Mali today. I met Aminata
Sawane, an older, well-established prominent cloth dyer. Aminata described how she left Mali
in the mid-1960s with other cloth dyer friends and traveled to neighboring Sierra Leone to learn
to work with commercial powdered dyes. During this period, Sierra Leone was gaining a
reputation throughout West Africa for its beautifully dyed and woven cotton fabric. At the same
time, Sierra Leonean cloth dyers brought their wares to Mali to sell in the open-air markets of
Bamako. Aminata recalled how popular the Sierra Leonean hand-dyed cloth was among
Malians. While in Sierra Leone, Aminata met other Malian dyers who also worked as
apprentices to advance their dyeing skills. After several years of working as apprentices,
Aminata and friends returned home to Bamako. They immediately put their newly acquired
skills to good use. They began working almost exclusively with commercially manufactured
powdered dyes and sulphur-based chemicals. Aminata recalled how the use of the commercial
dyes paid off well for her and her friends. Since that time, with the use of commercial dyes,
Malian cloth dyers have broadened the spectrum of colors and hues, which opened the door to
new designs and techniques.
Miriam Coulibaly, another prominent dyer, explained how difficult it was during the mid-
1970s in Bamako to find imported commercial powdered dyes. As Miriam explained, when the
Malian textile manufacturer COMATEX began operating in the early 1980s, the imported
commercial powdered dyes became widely available in the local markets. Before that time,
Malian businessmen traveled to the Ivory Coast buying imported goods from local traders along
the seaports of Abidjan. They returned home with an array of imported products, including
limited amounts of the imported commercial powdered dyes. During the 1980s, when Miriam
was a young girl, she learned to dye cloth from her grandmother. She initially learned to dye
using indigo, a plant-based dye. She commented that the new commercial imported powdered
dyes were easier and more convenient to use. These new developments have helped to expand
Mali's hand-dyed cloth industry. Today, Malian cloth dyers enjoy a reputation throughout West
and Central Africa as skillful dyers and innovative designers of hand-dyed cloth.
The economically profitable industry of cloth dyeing employs a variety of occupations:
pattern makers, pounders (pounding the cloth is a type of ironing), market scouts, sellers of
commercial powdered dyes and chemical supplies, wholesale and retail cloth merchants of
undyed white, imported cotton cloth, market traders selling cloth dyed by others, and cloth dyers
themselves selling their own wares. For some women, cloth dyeing is a seasonal occupation.
The seasonally slow periods vary. The slow period generally is at the end of the hot season
during late April and May, and also in the rainy season during the end of July through
September. Since the majority of the work of cloth dyeing happens outdoors, dyers are unable to
work when it rains. Many cloth dyers engage in other activities to earn an income during the
rainy season. During the slow season, some make and sell handmade soap, imported toiletries,
incense, women's apparel, and other items to make money.
Because of the industry's popularity and income potential, some experienced dyers have
organized formal classes for young rural girls who come into Bamako with the intent of earning
money to send back to their villages to help their families. Two prominent senior cloth dyers
described these young girls as "apprentices" who pay to learn the skill (the varying arrangements
will be discussed later in this chapter). After learning to dye cloth, these rural girls start working
at the bottom of the industry as traders selling the inventory of other cloth dyers or working as
scouts in the market. Atou, a young market trader, explained how she perceives her work today
as a steppingstone to one day owning her own inventory of hand-dyed bazin and having young
girls working for her.
Malian cloth dyers are respected artist. A Senegalese trader, buying bazin to resell in the
markets of Dakar commented, "The beautiful colors and creative designs are what Malian
women give to West Africa." A wholesale cloth merchant said, "The women are gifted in that
way. They have been dyeing cloth for hundreds of years." The Malian dyers themselves
modestly credit the environmental conditions for their success. Niamoye, a prominent older
cloth dyer, commented, "The water in Mali contains more salt than other nearby regions. The
sun is also stronger here, which has an effect on the dyeing process." Cisse, another prominent
dyer, said, "It's the kiss of the Bamako sun that makes Mali a good place for cloth dyeing." She
continued, "It's the intensity of the sun that helps make the colors vibrant." Madame Basse, a
prominent, senior dyer, asserts,
We pass as leaders in dyeing because we have more devotion, more courage
than others. We are always trying to go forward by searching ways and means.
But, if you ask someone from Sierra Leone or someone from Guinea, she will
say that our water suits dyeing and that there is much sunshine in Mali. This is
not true. The reality is that Malians are more skillful.
In Mali, the art of cloth dyeing has taken years to cultivate by experimenting with new
colors and design combinations. Mixing color is a skill cultivated by multiple attempts of trial
and error. Even today, an unfamiliar ingredient (i.e., a different brand of manufactured dye) can
alter the process and render the result a different shade from what was originally intended.
Typically, cloth dyers do not write down ingredients or use calculated measurements when
mixing color. They visually estimate the amount needed as they pour the powdered color dye
into the heated water. The amount of powder determines the intensity of the color. Too much
powder may render the color too dark; too little powder can cause the color to fade too quickly.
To create a desired shade, a dyer blends several colors in varying amounts. Balancing the hue
intensity with complementary colors is the essence of the artistry of cloth dyeing. Often a client
will bring to a dyer a piece of undyed white bazin along with a swatch of color to be matched.
Only a very experienced dyer possesses the skill to be able to match the color. Madame Basse, a
senior cloth dyer, said that the first quality bazin absorbs the dye better than the other qualities
and lasts longer. She remarked, "I have worn boubous made from the first quality bazin for
more than 10 years with the color as vibrant as the first day I wore it." Dyers continue to "push
the envelope," innovatively combining design techniques of wax stamping, hand or machine
stitching, and tie-dyeing.
Figure 4-2. A pounder/gosili kela (method used to iron cloth).
In West Africa, cloth dyers use numerous design techniques to enhance the attractiveness
and value of their products (Perani & Wolff, 1999). Hand-dyed cloth can be as recognizable as a
person's signature. Some experienced senior cloth dyers explained that if they saw someone on
the street wearing hand-dyed cloth with a pattern, they could recognize their own designs and the
work of their friends. This is quite a feat given that there are hundreds of cloth dyers in Mali.
Assa Toure, a senior cloth dyer, explained, "It's like recognizing your own handwriting or that of
a friend." Moreover, cloth dyers are creating more and more designs every year. The designs
have names: patiana (dance), jege-kolo (fish bone) and sugaro kise (sugar cube). Sometimes the
designs are inspired by and named after a famous Malian griot (storyteller), a celebrity singer, or
the name of the originator of the design. It is a common practice to replicate the designs of
others. Miriam said, "If a dyer copies one of my designs, it is a compliment. We do it all the
Most of the cloth designs are created from dyeing methods called "resist dyeing" (Sieber,
1972). Resist dyeing is a general term used to describe a method by which cloth resists the dye
due to varied techniques applied during the dyeing process. To create a design, Malian cloth
dyers use multiple techniques, such as tying knots, stamping wax, and placing stitches
systematically on the fabric. The cloth is then immersed into the dye solution, rinsed, hung out
to dry, untied, and finally returned to its natural shape. The resist pattern is now exposed as a
contrast to the darker dyed surface. Pressure exerted by the tools used in the process, thread or
cord, rubber straps, or clamps secure the wrapped sections from making contact with the dye
solution (see Figure 4-3). In a sense, the memory of the shape remains imprinted on the cloth
Figure 4-3. Cloth tied to create a tie-dye pattern.
Cloth dyers in many parts of the world, including China, Japan, India, Indonesia, the
Middle East, and North and West Africa, use tie-dye to create beautiful designs on cloth
(Polakoff, 1980; Wada, 2002). The tie-dye design is a favorite among Malians. To create the
design, a piece of cloth is spread out, and sections of the fabric are gathered up into clumps and
tightly wrapped and tied with a strong cord. If the desired pattern has multiple colors, the
lightest color is applied first. After the cloth has been dipped in the dye solution, rinsed, and
hung out to dry, the cord is cut and a beautiful starburst pattern is exposed.
Batik is also commonly used in West Africa. In Mali, this method employs a hot waxy
paste made of flour, corn, cassava, starch, or commercial wax applied to the cloth by brush or a
long-handled stamp. The handmade stamps are carved wood made into a variety of different
motifs. After the stamp is dipped into the hot wax, the motif is stamped onto the cloth. The
paste then dries and hardens into a wax. The cloth is then dipped into a hot dye solution.
Resistance of the waxed areas to the dye solution creates the design. As the cloth is immersed
over and over to insure that the solution saturates it, some of the hardened wax cracks, and the
dye seeps through onto the fabric. The cloth is then removed from the solution, rinsed in clear
water, sun dried, and rinsed again. During the last rinse, all the remaining wax is removed. The
fabric now reveals the stamped design made even more interesting by the variations created by
the dye solution seeping through the cracks of the hardened wax.
Figure 4.4. Stamping a design on bazin.
In Mali, hand or machine stitching is another popular and frequently used technique for
creating a design for cloth dyeing. Raffia string or cord is used for the hand stitching. The
dyeing process is similar to the resist methods previously described. The cloth is folded, pleated
or gathered, and stitched in sections so that the dye cannot penetrate the stitched areas. After the
cloth has been dipped in the dye solution, the string or cord is removed, and the sewn areas that
resisted the dye reveal a two-tone pattern of dots and/or dashes, which creates the design. The
dyed surface serves as a background to the stitched area. Many of the designs use intricate
stitching patterns and multiple colors. Some designs can take one month or more to complete.