Just a few weeks ago, I launched a new World Bank report on gender in Pakistan – Is the microfinance sector in Pakistan serving women entrepreneurs? The report highlighted some troubling patterns which emerged from a review of the microfinance sector there, mainly that most women borrowers are actually acting as loan conduits for the men in their family, that much of the sector is engaging in de facto discriminatory practices, and that women who are actually running businesses in Pakistan have little interest in using microfinance products, because the products offered are unsuitable for their business needs. These are pretty counterintuitive findings, and have us questioning whether these observations are specific to Pakistan, or if these practices are more widespread.
As a follow up to that work, our team was given a great opportunity to organize a session at the recent FPD Forum on Supporting Women Entrepreneurs Around the Globe: Challenges and Opportunities. We saw this session as a way to raise the profile around this important agenda (beyond Pakistan), and ask some very important questions about how the Bank is supporting women in the private sector, what the key challenges to reaching this market segment might be, take stock of what we’ve learned about the impact of our work to date, and hear about the innovative work others are doing in this space.