By: Adham Bishr
Women’s Empowerment International celebrated the achievements of women all around the globe in UCSD’s Great Hall at the International House. Women from Kenya, Somalia and Honduras came to the event to show their successes as provided by Women’s Empowerment International. The organization works with local banks to give microcredit loans to women in poverty-stricken areas, giving them the means to escape the poverty that they are trapped in. The loans are usually small amounts: ranging from $76 to $900. But every penny counts in these societies where women perform extremely hard work in return for scraps or usually nothing at all. But the loans are not just distributed internationally but right here in San Diego. Some receivers of these loans were able to attend the event and showed off the businesses they had created using the loans. The businesses ranged from statues to baby products to tribal dresses. Women such as Hasno Ali from Somalia created East African Cuisine from the loan she received. In gratitude, she would hand out free samples of kebab at the event.
Events like this offered multiple venues for anyone and everyone. Booths explained how to join and help the organization such as donating or volunteering. You can even give someone membership as a gift (most suggestions were naturally a female relative).
PROSPECT was able to have an interview with the president of Women’s Empowerment International, Winifred Cox.
PROSPECT: How do you feel that events such as this one contribute to women’s empowerment?
COX: The whole point of today was to celebrate the success of women trying to help themselves and trying to just fulfill their talents. And that is what an event like this does. And it showcases women who are using their talent against all odds.
PROSPECT: From your bio on the Women’s Empowerment International website, it mentions that you: “value… our profound duty to look out for each other” (http://www.womenempowerment.org/boardmembers.php). Can you tell me a little bit more about what that duty involves?
COX: I think that all of us, whether we have a lot of money or not, or a lot of talent or not, owe something to our fellow man. We’re not supposed to just spend our lives going from point A to point B. We are supposed to look out for each other. For those of us who live in this great country, we get a good education, good housing and good food. If you work hard you can pretty much make it in this country. For those who can’t make it in this country, or in other places, we should give them a hand. And what I love about this organization is that we don’t give them charity. They don’t want charity. All they want is opportunity. The same opportunity we have to go to school, educate our kids, and live in a decent house. So we just give them a loan that they work to pay back and they do pay it back. But most of the clients we have never actually get out of poverty quite frankly. It takes so many years, but their children do and they get to break that cycle.
PROSPECT: How do you determine who gets the loans?
COX: We partner with banks for the poor. They actually go out to find women that are credible and the women of the village choose a woman to join their circle. They give money to the whole group ranging from 6 to 30. And then the group guarantees each other’s loans. We don’t pick the women; the women pick each other. They can’t pick someone unreliable because the entire group is responsible for the loan. That’s why we have a 96% or better payment rate.
PROSPECT: What industries would you like to see women who receive loans get more involved in?
COX: One of the problems is that women are in such impoverished areas that when they get the loan, they have to start businesses relevant to that area, such as raising livestock or clothes. Most of the time they have never seen another kind of business, so they can’t think of another type of business. They are mostly out in isolated areas so they are not exposed to a whole lot.
PROSPECT: Are there any female figures (whether currently or historically) that serve as an inspiration to you or the organization?
COX: Frankly, we named it Women’s Empowerment International because we had the expectation that we would be empowering women in other countries. And the truth is that when you see these women, you are empowered by them. They inspire us. It’s hard to explain but we are so proud to be on the same planet as these women. For me, I got a job, good paycheck, worked hard and got paid for it. But these women have worked so hard just to earn pennies, and against all odds, they do it. We are so inspired at how hard they work for so little.
Image courtesy of Women’s Empowerment International