Yesterday the CGA had the honor of having Roshaneh Zafar, founder and managing director of Kashf Foundation, come talk to us about microfinance. Zafar, a former World Bank employee, discussed the origins of her organization. At the start of her career, Zafar worked in the Water and Sanitation department of the World Bank, and did not see herself going in the direction of microfinance. However, as fate would have it, one day a difficult question was posed to her by a rural Pakistani woman. The women asked Zafar during a presentation she was giving on water and sanitation, “what can you do for us that will actually impact our lives?” Zafar realized that women need economic opportunities to have the ability to make choices. She became inspired and in 1996 she started Kashf, the first microfinance organization in Pakistan.

Zafar began her presentation with an explanation of the origins of patriarchy and moved on to share astounding figures that illustrate why focusing on economic empowerment of women can change the world. 70% of people living below the poverty line are women. The economic loss to a society that has a lack of women participating in the market is 0.7% of GDP. In both South Asia and the Middle East, female participation in the economy is only half that of male participation. Thus, there is a clear correlation between a society that does not utilize all of its human resources and poverty.

However, this is not only a problem of economics. The most difficult part about empowering women economically is changing a society’s attitudes and perspectives towards women. During her presentation Zafar stated, “Microfinance is simple, but changing mindsets is not.” Therefore, the real challenge to empowering women economically is making both men and women realize the worth of a woman in both social and economic terms. The underlying devaluation of women in some societies continues to be an uphill battle for organizations like the KASHF Foundation, and for our global community as a whole. Hopefully, one day we will reach a global society where equity between women and men is the norm. Thankfully, organizations like Kashf are doing some of the most important work in the world, and leading us in that direction.

Please click the link below to check out the Kashf foundation and all the wonderful work they do!

Photo attributed to: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Written by Ivana Kvesic