On a long flight home from India recently I reflected on how the economic empowerment of women in India is providing millions of families with the opportunity to free themselves from crippling poverty. During my visit I met several families who had lived on less than $2.50 a day before they received a small loan to start and build an income producing business. Women like Seema, from Uttar Pradesh, who used a small loan to start a small roadside shop selling soaps and snacks. Once she paid back her first loan, Seema took out a second loan and later a third, to grow her business, and she is earning enough to put nutritious food on the table, send her children to school and save for emergencies.

Empowered by the success of her small business, Seema participated in training to become a community health leader, and she now provides health and hygiene education to her community. She is now highly respected by her family and local community and has become a change agent – successfully lobbying local authorities to construct a toilet in each home in her village to reduce preventable diseases. Emboldened by this achievement she is now seeking ways to source a clean water supply for her village to replace the E coli contaminated water that causes diarrhoea and typhoid. Seema’s husband is helping her, and she is proud to consider herself a leader within the community, creating real change for her friends and family.

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CHANGING LIVES: Seema, from Uttar Pradesh in India, whose small roadside business has enabled her to support her family, also provides health and hygiene training to other women in her community and has become an "agent of change" in her community. PICTURE: Courtesy of Opportunity International Australia.

 

"As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the millions of inspiring entrepreneurial women like Seema in developing countries, who are using a small loan to start and build a business and provide a better future for their families."

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the millions of inspiring entrepreneurial women like Seema in developing countries, who are using a small loan to start and build a business and provide a better future for their families. Like many women around the world, these women work very hard. They often rise early in the morning to work in their little businesses before the rest of the family wakes. During the day, they juggle work, childcare and housework. Through their businesses, they can earn an income that allows them to provide their family with regular meals and they are even able to afford to send their children to school. Many of these women lack basic reading and writing skills because their parents could not afford to educate them, and like us, they are determined their children will have an education and a better future.   

International Women’s Day is an important catalyst and vehicle for driving transformational change for women, their families and local communities. The theme this year, #BeBoldForChange, inspires us to take ground-breaking action that truly drives bold change.  Women earn lower amounts than men. They are more likely to miss out on an education and as a result, illiteracy rates are higher amongst women than men. Women are also less likely to have access to a bank account than men.  

This is unacceptable and drives Opportunity International Australia’s efforts to help women free themselves from poverty - whether it is through small loans to grow income producing businesses; training them as health leaders in their local community, or providing educational loans so their children can go to school. It’s so inspiring to witness the bold actions women take to improve the life of their family and local community when they are given the opportunity to become more personally and economically empowered.  

The stories we hear from these women are totally uplifting. During my visit to India one woman told us how becoming a business woman had earned her the respect of her family and community: “Before I was seen as nothing. I didn’t even understand what my family was saying. I wasn’t spoken to or recognised as worthwhile. Now I understand as I have met other business women and I am respected by all as I contribute financially to my family.” Another woman said: “I have become more financially independent by engaging in various livelihood activities such as selling sanitary napkins and conducting eye checks. This means I don’t have to ask my husband or father-in-law for daily expenses and I can make my own decisions. The men in my family have welcomed this change too.” 

It is these bold women I want to honour and celebrate on International Women’s Day. Through a small loan they have received a hand up and embraced the opportunity it represented. They are empowered through their achievements and are driving transformational change in their families and local communities. They are a beacon of hope for us all.   

Robert Dunn is the chief executive officer of Opportunity International Australia

Opportunity International Australia enables you to invest in a mother living in poverty so that she can use a small loan to buy an item like a sewing machine and start a small business. For a family in a developing country who can’t afford the basics, a gift as small as $70 can be life changing. With this hand up, a mother can put food on the table, send her children to school and transform her family’s future for generations. Mothers want what is best for their children, and as businesses become successful (98 per cent of Opportunity’s loans are repaid), your help means they can make their dreams for their children come true.