Understanding the impacts of microfinance on women’s empowerment in South Africa


Based on a study which Social Surveys Africa conducted in 2017-2018 with the IMAGE programme and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHMT), a new open access academic journal article summarises insights on the impacts of microfinance programmes on women’s empowerment and intimate partner violence.


There are conflicting views on the impact of microfinance-only interventions on women’s economic empowerment and intimate partner violence in low and middle-income countries. Evidence suggests however that when microfinance is combined with complementary programmes (microfinance plus) it may be effective for empowering women and addressing intimate partner violence. We conducted in-depth interviews with adult women in rural South Africa who had received microfinance loans for more than a year and had recently completed gender training. We explored women’s perceptions on income generation; the effects on their relationships, including intimate partner violence; their notions of power; and perspectives on men’s reactions to their empowerment.


Findings reveal that the notion of ‘power within the self’ is supported by women’s income generation, alongside a sense of financial independence and improved social support. Women reported increased happiness and reduced financial stress, although social norms and gender expectations about women subservience and male headship remain salient, particularly among older women. Furthermore, younger women appeared to tolerate abuse due to financial and caring responsibilities. These findings underpin the importance of complementary gender training programmes and of including men as participants for enhancing the effectiveness of economic strengthening interventions.

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