Methods: Research questions are answered using a sample of self-help microcredit program participants from five geographic zones (N=109). Data were collected using the survey method. Key study variables include socio-demographics, loan amount, investment patterns, and perceived barriers to inclusion. A series of univariate and bivariate statistical procedures were performed to assess the association between study variables. To understand overall effects of participating in the self-help program on the women's perception of barriers to inclusion, a multiple regression procedure was conducted.
Results: Results indicate that self-help microcredit programs play a significant role in influencing life chances for poor widowed and abandoned women. Specifically, the age of a respondent – being older – and marital status – being abandoned – (b=0.05, t=2.82, p=0.01; b=1.57, t=3.62, p=0.00), are related to an increase in barriers to inclusion. Further, group experience and use of the loan are significantly associated with barriers to inclusion (b=-0.95, t=-2.42, p=0.02; b=-0.14, t=-3.00, p=0.00). Level of education, (b=-0.10, t=-1.86, p=0.07) approaches significance.
Discussion/Implication: A conservative interpretation of these results would signify that certain characteristics of self-help microcredit programs are important in promoting inclusion. However, for older women, women with lower levels of education as well as women who face additional barriers such as abandonment and widowhood, there may be a gap between what these programs can provide and their specific needs. An approach with greater potential to reduce this gap may be a multifaceted initiative taking into account household needs as well as the unfair and inequitable treatment such groups experience. The women themselves will need to be empowered to learn about their rights and channels of redress that are open to them.