August 20 2009
Microfinance and Property Rights as Tools of Empowerment
Nicole Kurokawa Neily
One of the reasons IWF decided to weigh in on the health care debate is that women will be disproportionately affected by any "reform" plan offered by the government. Women often shoulder the burden for health care decisions in their families, a point reiterated in this weekend's special section of The New York Times.
Nicholas Kristol highlights how microfinance benefits women and girls in poverty: "A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier."
Esther Duflo, a researcher from MIT, confirms this, stating: "When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves."
"Such research has concrete implications: for example, donor countries should nudge poor countries to adjust their laws so that when a man dies, his property is passed on to his widow rather than to his brothers. Governments should make it easy for women to hold property and bank accounts - 1 percent of the world's landowners are women - and they should make it much easier for microfinance institutions to start banks so that women can save money."
Ignoring the "donor country" comment for a moment, his acknowledgment that property rights are intrinsic to economic opportunity is an important one - particularly because economic opportunity is a central platform of IWF's work. When women can earn their own money without fear of the government (or, unfortunately, family members and neighbors) taking it, society as a whole is better off.
(For more information on this topic, the Property Rights Alliance has an international property rights index that ranks countries based upon variables including physical property rights.)