The Paramount Young Women Initiative, with support from the Feminist Humanitarian Network, has provided a zero-interest loan for sixty-two (62) women to improve their businesses as a means of giving them economic empowerment amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.
Explaining the institution’s Women Economic Empowerment at a policy brief launch held in Monrovia on March 18, 2021, Facia Harris, PAYWI Volunteer Executive Coordinator, said as women grappled with economic hardship, some were entrapped and afflicted by male abusers, especially during the lockdown period.
She said the economic impacts of COVID-19 afflicts women and men differently because of differentiated social and economic conditions. Harris said in communities where PAYOWI intervened with its “Zero Interest Loan” initiative, teary stories of how sweeping economic hardship which afflicted women-headed, multi-dimensionally poor households abound.
“Setbacks in the income-generating and livelihood activities of women incapacitated them to feed their families, send their children to clinics, and sunk many into huge debts. This kind of endemic economic hardship cannot be seen as a short-term variation in economic stability and livelihood conditions. Indeed, it will have far-reaching long-term impacts on women who already lack economic and social power resources to recover to pre-incident status and even beyond. The same counts for SGBV survivors,” Harris said.
She said the Government of Liberia took quick action to prevent the economic shocks of the crisis and to protect the Liberian population, and yet, women have been significantly overlooked/left behind.
Harris, in a PowerPoint presentation, told the gathering that humanitarian economic responses of local and international NGOs as well as individuals have been in the form of immediate relief, and will not address the structural impacts of the crisis on women and girls. “It will not curb the deepened inequality and injustice they are experiencing and will continue to experience into the future without action,” she stressed.
She said seeing the importance of finding an alternative economic recovery approach, PAYOWI argues that its “Zero Loans” approach is effective and should be taken at scale by all humanitarian actors. Harris added that the “Zero Interest Loan” scheme encompasses the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) and Grameen’s Microlending models.
She said the Coronavirus crisis created multi-layered socio-economic challenges, including a spike in SGBV cases and more stressful living conditions for Liberians, especially women and girls. Harris said the mitigation responses of government and partners are significant but not gendered.
She recommended that: “to address the core existential challenges identified above, PAYOWI recommends the following: Local NGOs should engage, advocate, and influence public and civic actors involved in economic empowerment as well as business stakeholders to support efforts to shield or recover women from economic shock and hardship to pre-Coronavirus crisis status; Local and International NGOs providing alternative financial services are encouraged to incorporate PAYOWI’s ‘Zero Interest Loan’ approach, and the government of Liberia should fully implement the Rape and SGBV Prevention Road Map developed during the two-day anti-rape conference on September 8 and 9, 2020.”
Harris also encouraged local NGOs/CSOs to buttress the Government’s efforts by holding GoL accountable for the full utility of the Road Map.
Diana D. Jarka, from the Duazohn community, said being in a remote community, she did not expect PAYOWI to consider them as beneficiaries but, surprisingly, her community was highlighted.
“When we did the first selling and turned the money over to PAYOWI, they told us to take the money back to our business, this time around, with saving just L$200 a month to help bring another woman into business,” she said. Margaret Kollie, a beneficiary from the GSA Road Community, thanked PAYOWI for the initiative and called on other organizations to follow as means of providing an economic environment for young women across Liberia.