Women in Network: neither Self-sufficient nor Dependent

Community Solutions of Financial Inclusion and Socio-economic Recovery

30 de Junio de 2022
Grupo de Mujeres

“They [women] are neither self-sufficient nor dependent: they are part of a community.” Interviewed woman

The load borne by women from low-income populations became heavier in their households during the pandemic. It was them that they had to carry out chores and care work, give school support (when schools were closed) and do community work, such as the one done at meal centers. The situation was critical. One of the interviewees said: “There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood. First, [in the meal center] there were 10 kids, then 20, 80 and, now during the pandemic, we have to deliver 410 rations because they are not only for the kids but also for their entire family.” In this context, women take on—once again—a fundamental role in creating networks which support the more affected people by the social and health crisis.

The pandemic also aggravated pre-existing structural problems faced daily by women from low-income populations. These issues prevent them from gaining economic autonomy: informal and precarious conditions in the labor market integration, schemes reproducing debt, and lack of access to a formal financial system, among other issues. At the same time, many of these women were forced to reinvent themselves and take up new economic activities in the digital space, as well as, to acquire new knowledge, skills, and habits, especially those related to virtual world. In the face of this new challenge, they responded to it by supporting each other. Another interviewee explained: “I tell the girls that, as soon as they cash the [social security] program, they should invest it, use it to resell something, make do with their phones to work from home, so they can be with their kids and be able to get by in a different way. Luckily, today we have social media: you can manage everything with, organize a meetup. I mean, everything is different.”

In this context—where the traditional financial system seemed unreachable for populations in a vulnerable situation and their necessities—financial inclusion became a central topic of discussion in the socio-economic recovery. Therefore, the UNDP Argentina Accelerator Lab and its Gender Area worked out a solutions mapping to identify what women from the great Buenos Aires area do to deal with, resist or mitigate the negative impacts of the socio-economic and financial crisis. For this purpose, we implemented a qualitative strategy in which 60 women were interviewed and six focus groups were organized for them to discuss—as specialists—the most frequently mapped solutions. No one knows their problems better than they do.

The field trip made it possible for us to identify that the deployed grassroots solutions share the following patterns:

  • Subsistence: These solutions are meant to guarantee material life reproduction in households and are included in considerably short-term subsistence dynamics. “The only thing that can be planned is today.” Even though long-term projects are also mentioned in these interviews, the identified strategies show a sense of urgency. The truth is that the pandemic exacerbated the pre-existing structural problems, cutting many household incomes. Women had to reinvent themselves and find a way to deal with their problems to pull through. As a consequence, in these territories, the reappropriation of some public policies as a way of financing can be found. The most evident example was the use of the Emergency Family Income (IFE) as initial capital to start small businesses and, thus subsist.
  • Care and time: These are crucial elements to understand the women’s preference for implementing some strategies instead of others. For instance, as far as possible, these women usually choose those economic activities or modalities of work giving them more flexibility and the possibility to be at their homes. A clear example of this occurs when they prefer to keep taking part in community spaces of digital purchase and sale, where they are more independent as regards the use of their time, instead of other jobs in which they need to leave the house or stick to a rigid schedule.
  • Collaborative and community scale: (Family, community, work) relationships and (neighborhood, social, feminist) networks make a major difference in the way of pulling through. For instance, this scale becomes a reality in the saving circles among people who know each other (family members, friends, coworkers, or neighbors) called pasanakus, organized to periodically give a set amount of money during a period. The participants of these circles are interested in making savings or investments that allow them to have larger amounts of money than the ones they are used to gaining for their household economies, without having to resort to financial institutions, moneylenders, etc. The circle consists of giving the total amount of money of each round to one of the participants until the circle is complete.
  • Close scale: In addition to the relational dimension, closeness occurs at a physical level (people who live nearby) and at an identity level (people who define themselves as members of the same group). For instance, these women have participated in spaces of digital purchase and sale, but have kept the local and community essence (of popular economy fairs, for example) where transactions between people from the area take place.
  • The mobile phone as a work tool in a popular economy: The mobile phone is the preferred device by low-income populations since it is through it that communicative, social, economic, and financial practices occur, helping and facilitating most of the solutions developed in the territories. Here it is worth mentioning the use of social media (mainly, WhatsApp) and the accelerated adoption of digital wallets.

The developed strategies, as well as the patterns found, are resources to think of new lines of action refocusing on or including what women need, value, or find useful. From the lessons learned, we emphasize the need to promote interventions, created for women from low-income populations, in which sociability networks and social organizations are regarded as key elements, and the importance of combining financial and economic measures with policies strengthening the care infrastructure. All of this should be done to support the economic autonomy and financial inclusion of women and, thus to contribute to evening out their developmental opportunities.


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