Documentary places women at the centre of social change

By Samaya Argüello

Disruption | Transitions Film Festival

Financial literacy is not usually something that people would readily associate with human rights and gender equality. Yet across Latin America, a group of economic activists are working to ensure these work in tandem, raising the socio-economic profile of women and families in the poorest communities.

These programs work closely with women from impoverished backgrounds and try to break the cycle of poverty by educating women about economic management, socio-economic community development and gender equality.

The financial inclusion system revolves around balancing monetary payments with financial education about the banking system in a bid to increase involvement by women in the economic processes within the community – something that is often denied to them.

Payments are conditional in that they require children to go to school and women to attend public health clinics – they are also paid directly to the women who must manage the payments and entrepreneurship is encouraged so that women are often supporting each other through community ventures. The payments are directed through a bank account which gives women the opportunity to learn about economics as well as increasing their ability to participate in sections of society otherwise closed to them due to the poverty they live in.

Working in partnership with governments and banks, the group’s story is told through a series of insights into the programs they offer in Peru, Colombia and Brazil and illustrates the exponential power financial literacy has on communities that have traditionally been at the lower end of the economic prosperity scale.

Where there was once a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, there is now hope that financial and gender rights education will be the catalyst to break the mould.

In this sense, Disruption highlights very real issues surrounding gender and economic inequality that Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru and Brazil faces. In these countries, especially in rural and remote communities, the very nature of poverty often impacts women and children the hardest as they operate on the fringe of society not having traditionally been exposed to programs or policies that encouraged civic interaction.

In Peru, a difficulty in getting the ‘Women Savers’ program off the ground was the distrust and unwillingness of women’s husbands to allow their wives to participate. Gender-based arguments were used to initially deny participation in the program and this wasn’t just restricted to Peru. In encouraging financial inclusion programs within local community settings, the Fundación Capital group also started to break down barriers that had traditionally denied female involvement in areas such as decision-making and community leadership.

The stories captured by Yates show how education can forever alter the trajectory of a woman’s life and the positive impact that this has not only on the immediate family but on the community as a whole.

However, a program is only as successful as the amount of women it seeks to assist so the move from a small-scale program to one infinitely more scalable was always going to be a challenge, as the documentary delves into.

Moving inclusion programs from participation rates of 7,000 women to the large-scale rollout of 200,000 requires a delicate balance of economic activism and enthusiasm, from building working relationships with governments and the banking sector to alter their financial management of impoverished communities to building on willingness to invest in digital technologies and become a champion for the often marginalised and overlooked.

In Disruption, we are offered a glimpse into what could possibly be the future of banking for communities across the world. Its system of financial inclusion works to dispel poverty through financial literacy whilst also educating women and families about gender rights and equality. It illustrates how entrenched capitalist systems can be used to provide a mechanism, or framework, for communities to extricate themselves out of poverty and thus control their own financial futures.

It’s no wonder that some 45 countries across Asia and Africa are also trialling their own financial inclusion programs.

Disruption will be showing at the Melbourne-based Transitions Film Festival on 3 March 2015 at Cinema Nova. Find out more about the film here.