Empowering Women in Post Conflict Areas through VSLAs: The case of Northern Uganda

Liza Zozula Jensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Microfinance is increasingly being used as a tool for promoting women empowerment, however the actual empowerment outcomes of women through microfinance schemes are highly contested in academia. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of studies looking at microfinance and empowerment of women in post-conflict areas. This thesis studies the influence of membership in Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) on the empowerment of women in post-conflict contexts, using the Gulu region in Northern Uganda as a case study. Through providing an in-depth study of women empowerment through VSLA membership, this research aims at contributing to the literaure of women empowerment in post-conflict areas, as well as to contribute to the understanding of the importance for context for influencing outcomes of microfinance programmes as a development tool. Through applying the definition and conceptualization of empowerment of Kabeer (1999) this being the ability of individuals to conduct choices to live their lives as they want, the study assesses the resources, agency and achievements related to VSLA membership, and with a reference to the gender roles, gender relations and the post-conflict context, as setting the frame in which empowerment takes place. The empirical findings are based on 18 semi-structured interviews and 5 group discussions conducted in 4 VSLAs during a 5 week long fieldtrip to the Gulu region in Northern Uganda. The study found that the post-conflict context significantly diluted the traditional gender roles and gender relations, which created a structural push factor for women to break up with traditional gender roles. This made it highly challenging to isolate the two factors of VSLA membership and empowerment. Having said this, the VSLAs provided a number of financial, human and social resources, which enabled members to act on their increased decision making capabilities resulting from the post-conflict context. Furthermore, the findings suggest that while specific outcomes, such as material gains and increased decision making capabilities were difficult to connect solely to the VSLA membership, there seemed to be an indication that the process of membership in itself had empowering impacts for members. Therefore, despite none of the women in the study demonstrating transformative agency as a result of their membership in the VSLA, the findings demonstrated a clear indication of increased empowerment through VSLA membership. This was due to the women in general having an increased feeling of power, well being and inner transformation, and feeling more capable of making decisions which would enable them to live their lives as they wanted.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages97