Women who are financially empowered through belonging to savings groups are more confident, less stressed and have better relationships with their husbands.
This is one of the findings of our collaborative study with FinMark Trust into the long-term impact of belonging to savings groups (SGs) and stokvels. It is particularly relevant to SaveAct, given that 83 000 (90%) of our members are women.
Based on in-depth interviews with dozens of long-term members, the study shows that improved financial circumstances directly contribute to women’s empowerment and household wellbeing. Female respondents reported feeling happy and confident since joining their SGs. They said their lives are “stress-free” and they feel that they can accomplish things and pursue their goals because they have the tools to do so.
Nolungile Mphathiswa, a 49-year-old wife, grandmother and small-scale farmer who was instrumental in starting the savings group in her village, Qoqa, in the Eastern Cape, is a heartening example of this independence.
“I am married but I don’t ask my husband for the money I put into savings every month,” she says. “Instead, I am able to contribute to monthly household needs, which also limits conflict at home. I am able to provide for my children and grandchildren, and I live a simple and happy life selling my chickens and growing vegetables from my home garden.”
The study’s women respondents feel that they are no longer waiting for things to happen and that they can make decisions without waiting for their husband’s consent or money. They are more independent and feel an increased sense of agency. One respondent said that her children complimented her for her ability to save because they could see the improvements she had made to her house.
Another respondent, a single mum, expressed her improved situation by saying that she feels like she has a husband because she is no longer struggling, husbands being seen to be the heads of the households and the main providers.
From women’s narratives it is evident that being part of SGs gives them increased control over money and that using share-out money for household improvement gives them a sense of achievement and accomplishment. Some of them managed to convince their husbands to support their membership by showing them concrete improvements to their household that they had managed to carry out with their first share-out money.
For some women share-out money also represents an opportunity to make investments that otherwise would have not been approved by their husband. For example, one female respondent bought a washing machine because she tired of waiting for her husband to give her the money. This has improved her life quite considerably because now she doesn’t have to wash her family’s clothes by hand.
There is a sense of being independent and self-reliant in these stories, even when in reality the women’s participation in their SGs is supported by other family members. One female respondent borrowed money to buy a microwave knowing that once she did that her husband would support her in repaying it.
Another woman built a rondavel with SaveAct money because she did not want to rely on her children’s money. However, they are now supporting her in making contributions to pay back the loan.
Both women and men felt that since joining SGs their household relationships have improved. They said that there is now more household collaboration because both partners contribute to expenses and support each other during difficult times.
Some women said they no longer quarrel with their husband over money. Instead, they now discuss how to better use the money that they have. “We no longer fight in the household,” said one respondent. “He used to tell me to wait for next month and next month he would suggest something else. Since I joined SaveAct, we are so happy. I know if I want something, I will get it.”