Stories of Change: CARE’s Success on Women’s Economic Empowerment

Stories of Change: CARE’s Success on Women’s Economic Empowerment


In countries around the globe, earning a living requires more than just hard work. It also requires equal access to and control over economic resources, assets, and opportunities — a right that’s often rare for far too many women around the world. CARE prioritizes these marginalized women and girls living in poverty who have limited economic options and opportunities. By equipping women with skills to start businesses and the financial services, leadership capabilities, and mentorship to grow those endeavors, we can empower them to live self-sufficient lives. When they have these opportunities within their grasp, they use their skills to generate income for the benefit of their families and communities, also known as women's economic empowerment

Women’s economic empowerment is crucial for poverty reduction, equality between men and women and facilitating social and economic justice around the world. For these reasons and many more, CARE advocates for the U.S. government to prioritize savings-led approaches, like CARE’s successful Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) model, that invest in women’s economic potential. We also aim to ensure U.S. law, policy, and programming prioritize women’s economic empowerment, ideally through bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress.

What is a VSLA?

VSLAs give communities the capacity to be self-sufficient. The CARE-supported savings program has proven that families – especially women – who have gained financial independence are able to live more fulfilling lives, lift their communities out of poverty and free themselves from other social challenges, like gender-based violence.

A VSLA is comprised of 10-25 people who save together and take small loans from those savings. CARE provides VSLA members with basic financial services and business skills training that enable them to upscale economic activities, improve household welfare, start new businesses and educate their children. As a result, VSLAs are helping to increase the overall quality of life for many poor and vulnerable women and their families.


A Lifeline To Stay Afloat

In Busiteema, a tiny village tucked in the Busia district in the Eastern region of Uganda, villagers, like Joyce Awori, desperately seek a lifeline to stay afloat when banking services are out of reach. Joyce saw her family’s life hopelessly crumble several years ago when her first husband’s family forced her out of his house barely months after he passed away. The struggling widow had to remarry just to support her children and then moved to Busiteema. “I left with nothing; even the few clothes I owned were left behind,” Joyce said.

Joyce has managed to get her and her family back on their feet, making a living selling fish and tomatoes with loans and savings from her VSLA. The group enables Joyce to save small amounts every week, which allowed her to eventually have enough for a plot of land. Joyce’s VSLA group prioritizes improving agriculture and food security by increasing household incomes. Next, Joyce hopes to buy more land, construct her own house and buy a cow or two, from which she can get milk to improve her family’s diet and to sell.

“These groups are the resource we the locals depend on for survival. I hope policy makers will get involved. It would fast track our development...” — Joyce Awori, Abenengo Village Savings Group, Busia
When women are empowered to make economic decisions, they can lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

‘Now we are equal’

Without the money to back up her entrepreneurial spirit, Rebecca Nankwanga lost all interest in trying to save or get a loan. Despite working hard, Rebecca and her husband struggled to grow enough food for their family that would last beyond two months each year. When Rebecca heard there was a VSLA in her home district of Luwuka in Eastern Uganda, she knew it was the chance she’d been waiting for to transform her family’s lives.

After joining the VSLA, Rebecca received trainings on saving, basic business skills and livestock management. She quickly put into practice her new skills, using a loan from the group to establish a small business rearing two pigs. As her project grew to 26 pigs, Rebecca was able to feed her four children each day, send three of them to boarding school and invest in an airtime-selling business. Not only has the VSLA transformed the family’s daily lives, but Rebecca has also seen the VSLA members’ confidence grow as a result of their new financial independence.

“Before it was hard to express our opinions to men. We couldn’t even speak to people because we were shy and didn’t know our rights. Now we are equal.” — Rebecca Nankwanga, Dhibula-atyaime Village Savings Group, Luwuka


What’s Next?

Women's economic empowerment is crucial for poverty reduction and equality between men and women.To support our ongoing efforts, the Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality (CWEEE), co-chaired by CARE USA, will bring together policymakers from the Hill and federal agencies like USAID and OPIC with civil society advocates and program implementers. Through the coalition, organizations like CARE highlight women’s economic empowerment as a U.S. government policy priority to both policymakers and advocates at home.

In April, the bipartisan Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act was introduced to Congress to prioritize women 's financial inclusion globally. CARE, along with other leading NGOs, are encouraged by this positive step towards building U.S. support for women and girls. 

You can take action today for women worldwide by sending a message directly to your member of Congress and urging them to cosponsor the Women's Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act for women everywhere. And don’t forget to follow CARE Action on Twitter for updates on our work for women and girls.


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