Cameroon - July 2010
Precarious socio-economic conditions increase women’s vulnerabilities to HIV and threaten the livelihood of those living with the virus. The inability to meet loan eligibility conditions as well as the lack of entrepreneurship skills are obstacles to the development of businesses. Financial services represent a major opportunity to improve their economic security and quality of life. However, micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are reluctant to grant loans to PLHIV, because of the perceived high risk of default.
In an effort to empower rural women vulnerable to HIV as well those living with the virus the International Labour Organization (ILO), financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, designed a micro-finance scheme in Kumbo, Wum, Bamenda and Mutenguene. Interventions included business skills building, AIDS counseling and support, and awareness-raising to reduce stigma and discrimination among stakeholders.
Seed funding provided by four micro-finance mutual societies and the project helped to provide start-up loans to 88 women after an assessment of their business plans. Eleven months after the introduction of the scheme, 86 grantees (97.7%) were successfully operating their small businesses. More than 86% had repaid part of their loans, and 65% had opened a saving account. Almost all report an increased income and a feeling of being valued and empowered. As part of the fight against stigma and discrimination, this intervention succeeded to ease the registration of 26 PLWA associations with their 460 members in three member-based MFIs. They paid their registration fees and also their shares, and now have equal rights like all other members, infected or non-infected, to benefit from the social, support and economic services offered by their MFIs.
Micro-finance schemes can significantly improve the living conditions of women vulnerable to HIV or living with HIV. Integrating the scheme into existing member-based social economy organizations (including mutual societies and cooperatives) helps ensure sustainability and reduce discrimination. Such democratic member-based organizations servicing their members rather than providing micro finance only with a profit purpose also enable to empower people vulnerable to HIV or living with HIV, especially women and enable them to take their future in hands.
Livelihood support, including capacity strengthening should be considered as part of community responses to HIV and AIDS. Partners will be sought to replicate the model in other places and on a larger scale.