Saving for Change in Mali
From women's financial inclusion to public engagement.
Qualitative research conducted in August 2017 examined the relationship between economic growth and forms of political accountability in four locations in Mali that have had exceptionally positive experiences in providing economic opportunities for women or in developing political consciousness. This research reviews the perceived impacts of Oxfam’s Saving for Change (SfC) program in these communities, and the strengths and challenges the program faces with regard to empowerment and accountability. It seeks to provide practical insights toward how the SfC program might meaningfully incorporate measures of political accountability.
Women participants saw the creation and reinforcement of bonds of solidarity and social support as SfC’s most significant contribution. The program allowed them to collectively achieve what would not be economically or socially feasible as individuals. Households identified SfC’s economic value primarily in terms of savings and protection rather than income generation, and appreciated SfC’s contributions to food security through consumption smoothing loans and emergency assistance. Although households perceived a general pattern of increased empowerment among SfC members over time, women’s empowerment was also highly constrained within the bounds of rural Malian society. The long-term sustainability of SfC was also challenged by the instability of SfC associations and intrinsic limitations to entrepreneurial expansion.
Malian political accountability is limited by unresponsive local officials, an under-informed population, and inegalitarian social norms. As a potential platform for political action, SfC has nevertheless allowed women to petition for rights they would normally be refused as individuals, and may therefore be shifting what is permissible for women. The most significant of these gains has been land ownership, permitted for collective production, although established gender norms make a woman’s individual land ownership nearly unattainable. SfC’s strength in uniting women through collective action may ultimately prove to be a powerful factor in developing political accountability. Its platform establishes the necessary conditions for self-advocacy: autonomous cells that have established mechanisms for effective information dissemination, recognized social capital within rural communities, and practice in collective problem-solving, self-organization, and adaptability.