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June 25, 2023

Sequencing: Order Matters for Gender-Based Violence and Women's Economic Empowerment Integrated Trainings

The Grameen Foundation (Grameen) and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) have been implementing the Reducing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) in El Salvador and Honduras Initiative (RBI) under the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) global consortium since 2018 with funding from the U.S. Department of State, Secretary’s Office of Women’s Issues (S/GWI). RBI works in tandem with three local microfinance institutions (MFIs) to provide a combination of financial and capacity building opportunities to women entrepreneurs that improve their ability to recognize, respond to, and reduce barriers to WEE and understand gender-based violence (GBV). One such learning opportunity is the Resilient Life, Resilient Business (RLRB) training, through which MFI staff and clients, including women entrepreneurs, develop skills in crisis and financial management. The training also holistically strengthens participants’ resilience both in their family life and in their enterprise to support business continuity and growth.

Grameen and ABA ROLI, along with WAGE core partners Search for Common Ground and the Center for International Private Enterprise, developed RLRB under RBI through a collaborative approach. Each organization brought either expertise in WEE, women, peace, and security, and/or GBV to the table to develop a curriculum designed to address women’s comprehensive needs. Women do not run a business in a perfect environment—they are under constant threats either in external circumstances or at home. WAGE partners designed RLRB to give women entrepreneurs tools to respond to this complexity.

During COVID-19, Grameen adapted the original paper-based RLRB curriculum to a digital platform to address limitations to implementing the training in person because of the pandemic. MFI staff and clients can access the new digitized RLRB curriculum through mobile devices, which includes animated videos with voiceover and interactive features. These videos comprise a series of digital learning stories as part of the RLRB training. In one of the videos, fictional characters named Teresa, Gloria, and Pedro reenact a scene that demonstrates the pervasive nature of GBV. In this video, Teresa’s friend, Gloria, recently called her in tears. Gloria’s husband, Pedro, had hit her, and she was in distress and seeking support from her friend. Teresa informed Gloria about a website run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) called CuéntaNos where users can access information to contact a trained professional for help, either through WhatsApp or Facebook. Gloria’s story mimics reality, as at any given time around the world, there are at least one in three women like her experiencing GBV.

​The four paper-based RLRB modules are named: Resilient Person, Resilient Life, Resilient Business, and Growing Business. While Resilient Person starts out with stress management to balance work and life, it results in two sessions on understanding GBV and developing an emergency plan if it were to occur. This module does not necessarily assume the female participant herself is facing GBV, but that she might know someone who is. Resilient Life is designed to help women think about having a general emergency plan, such as having an emergency savings fund. Resilient Business focuses on strategies to ensure a business is resilient to shocks. Growing Business helps a woman think through whether she—and her family—are ready to grow and expand a business. The 18 RLRB videos (currently only in Spanish) complement the 24 sessions from the four paper-based modules.

Under RBI, Grameen and ABA ROLI have been collaborating with three MFIs in El Salvador (Credicampo and PADECOMSM) and Honduras (ODEF Financiera) to integrate and implement the RLRB curriculum. Grameen trained MFI frontline staff (i.e., credit officers) through a training-of-trainers model to replicate RLRB to their clients. Importantly, the credit officers often hand-deliver training invitations to clients at their homes, giving them the opportunity to interact with client spouses and explain the importance and purpose of the trainings. Credit officers have an established relationship with their clients and have been to their homes for previous transactions, so they are aware of which ones are amenable to the trainings. So far, they have not experienced any resistance to women’s participation while inviting female clients in this way. To date, more than 1,200 entrepreneurs, 87 percent of them women, have participated in RLRB, either through in-person trainings, video sessions, or a combination of both.

Through thoughtful reflection and piloting, the three MFIs determined it is important to first lead the RLRB training with topics consistent with their existing products and services. Although the Resilient Person module does not dive directly into sensitive topics such as GBV and was originally intended to set a foundation for the other three modules, the MFIs found starting with Resilient Life or Resilient Business provides crucial time and groundwork for talking about gender norms and GBV with their clients. The MFIs also recognize laying this groundwork makes it safer and more culturally attuned for women clients who participate in RLRB to then discuss sensitive topics with their spouses—thereby employing a safeguarding approach through implementation of the training.

Given most of the MFI frontline officers who provide the trainings are men, the sequencing of RLRB training modules is essential for developing trust. These credit officers may provide trainings directly to women within their homes and come into direct or indirect contact with spouses and/or other family members. Unfortunately, word-of-mouth could result in rumors about inappropriate conversations held between credit officers and female clients. To avoid this risk, the MFIs changed course and started trainings on topics consistent with their own business, and then moved into the sensitive topics last. Further, MFIs are learning about the importance of hiring more women as credit officers and making concerted efforts to do so, which could also help reduce risks and improve operations through gender diversity among MFI staff.

When facilitating the RLRB training for women entrepreneurs, RBI demonstrates the importance of sequencing topics when integrating GBV with WEE (i.e., start with more familiar/culturally acceptable topics and ease into those that may be considered more taboo). This method aligns with general tactics for community awareness raising and gender transformative approaches for male engagement in GBV prevention such as: building trust with participants; not pushing participants to engage with topics they are potentially uncomfortable with; tailoring interventions/content to community/participant needs and priorities; and creating change and sustained commitment through well-designed strategies and approaches.

As the aforementioned RLRB video portrays, Gloria is aware of a resource now (IRC’s CuéntaNos) where she can seek GBV-related support and other social services. Thankfully, Teresa passed information about CuéntaNos along to Gloria after learning about the platform herself through her MFI provider and the RLRB training. As a result of this experience, Teresa knows her MFI provider cares more about her than just her financial needs.

Client Success Story

Olivia Gomez is 56 years old and has been a client of ODEF for over 20 years. She has taken individual credit this entire time to support and grow her beauty salon and a new mini-market she added during COVID-19. Periodically, her ODEF facilitator, Mario, meets her at her business to share RLRB education, which she says provides her a “forma como salir adelante”--or a way to get ahead. Through RLRB, she’s learned how to save her money, build a social support network, manage her stress, and develop a financial plan. As a result, she recently started an emergency savings fund. In the future, she hopes to receive training on sewing and technology to improve and expand her business. For now, Olivia is proud of what she’s accomplished as a mother and income earner.“Yo logré.”--I’ve succeeded.

Published on June 26, 2023.

    *Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government. 
    Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise, Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground. WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of private sector organizations (PSOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV); advance the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In this context, WAGE provides direct assistance to women and girls, including information, resources, and services they need to succeed as active and equal participants in the global economy. WAGE also engages in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices in these thematic areas. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s and girls’ experiences, WAGE’s initiatives employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, and inclusive. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

    The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.