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Economic development programs that focus on women’s needs can have a major positive impact on the lives of the clients, their families and their communities.
So says Su Sandar Koe, who works as gender co-ordinator for MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project in Myanmar. While most economic development programs are not women focussed, IMOW is.

 “In every channel of the value chain, it was so great for them.”
Prior to the program, women used to say that they didn’t believe in themselves. They are now learning to become business leaders. “This is just the beginning.”
Once women are economically empowered, they become socially empowered as well, and their voices can be raised, she said.
MEDA clients become viewed as heads of households, village administrators and political leaders.
“Men’s understandings also change. Men understand that women can do this.”
Yasmin Tab’a, gender co-ordinator at MEDA’s Jordan Valley Links program in Jordan, has similar stories to tell.  “Once those women start bringing money to the family, (other family members) start supporting them,” she said.
That’s not to say that change comes easily.
Women are kept busy with double duties, juggling household responsibilities and businesses, and struggling to find ways to finance their businesses, Koe said.
Financial institutions in Myanmar are “not pragmatically supportive” of small business people, she said.
Farmers, both men and women, find it difficult to get access to capital.Training women lead farmers in Myanmar in agricultural best practicesTraining women lead farmers in Myanmar in agricultural best practices
Multiple processes around questions of ownership and collateral are prohibitive in some cases.
Typically, only the head of household’s name, the husband, is on a land title. When that person dies, it is a big challenge for others.
Changing the name on a deed, a prerequisite to being able to use a property as collateral, can take more than a year and cost more than the value of the building in some cases, she said.
The United Nations has identified gender equality as one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also describes that goal as being a pre-condition for achieving the other 16 SDGs. Between $5 trillion and $7 trillion of investment capital will be required to address the critical challenges set out in the UN SDGs. ◆