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Felix Shaba is originally from Nigeria. He joined Oxford Brookes in September 2015 and his thesis title is ‘Microfinance Intervention and Women Empowerment in Nigeria: The Case of LAPO Microfinance Bank Ltd’.
I first heard about Oxford Brookes University through a friend who did his master’s degree here.
I was impressed with the swift response from my now Director of Studies, Professor Pritam Singh, when I was searching for a supervisor for my research topic. I needed to find a supervisor who had vast knowledge and interest in this research area, and I was really impressed with the way he responded to my email and took his time to answer my questions. I was also impressed with his expertise.
I had worked in different sectors - both academic and non-academic environments – and the last job I held was as a Software Tester. After being in this last job for few months, I felt the urge to pursue a career that will enable me to fulfil my childhood dreams.
It was quite easy for me to settle into the research environment. I had completed two master’s degrees in the UK, so I had a good knowledge of things. Getting the tempo back to becoming a full-time student was a bit slow but with the fantastic support from my supervisory team, the research team, and the series of seminars, conferences and library resources, I was able to fit in easily.
The title of my research is “Microfinance Intervention and Women Empowerment in Nigeria: The Case of LAPO Microfinance Bank Ltd”. This was borne out of my desire to contribute to alleviating poverty among women as a result of my background. I grew up in a remote village in Nigeria, where poor women strive daily to cater for their household. These women did all sorts of dirty and menial jobs to supplement the meagre output from their subsistence farming. What I noticed then was that despite all their efforts, they were still treated without value and respect by their male counterparts (both within the home and society). As a young boy then, I marvelled at the strength these women (including my mother) had to do all this hard work and yet receive no appreciation for their work. I also noticed that the women were poorer than their male counterparts as a result of their inability to access resources on an equal platform with men, which kept them in perpetual bondage.
Women’s empowerment is now seen as an essential tool for the development of society and has become an important issue across developing countries. There continued to be arguments and contradictions in the literature on the impact of microfinance on women’s empowerment. Several studies have been carried out on microfinance and women empowerment, but most studies have focused on the use of quantitative techniques, which ignored the perspectives of women participants and shut them out of the mainframe of their analysis. My research attempts to unravel some of the uncertainties about the role of microfinance in women’s economic, social and political empowerment by using a non-quantitative approach.
I used a qualitative approach to collect first-hand data from participants through a semi-structured interview, focus group discussion (FGD), observations, and informal discussions, to capture their views and gain insights into their perceptions. A total of 24 practitioners were interviewed to sensitise their opinions on microfinance and women empowerment, while 10 individual women’s views were captured in addition to a focus group discussion with 71 women across Lagos East in South West Nigeria. The research drew on the analytical frameworks of Friedman’s 1992 Alternative Development Theory and Young’s (1993) Transformatory Potential. Findings reveal that women experienced economic empowerment as there was an increase in their income, savings, control over and use of resources, decision making, ability to make small purchases and being involved in the decision to make large purchases. However, the study found a rise in participants’ household financial responsibilities as a result of the increase in their earnings.
Empirical findings also confirmed an increase in women’s social empowerment as there was an improvement in their mobility, literacy and health awareness, respect within the household and community and the ability to gain more voice within their household. However, there was a mixed result from the variables on political empowerment. The political awareness of participants is still very low. Although they have the freedom to join political parties, stand for election and decide whom to vote for, the party structure and how politics is played in Nigeria, coupled with innate feelings and other extrinsic factors, dissuade poor women from active participation in politics.
It was inferred from the analysis that financial autonomy is vital for women’s economic empowerment; social empowerment facilitates the sustainability of their economic empowerment; while political empowerment ought to serve as a conduit through which women can collectively bring about policy change to their favour. Thus, a major implication would be the inability of poor women to achieve full empowerment if they continue to show apathetic behaviour towards political representation.
One of the things I enjoy is gaining knowledge and expertise within a field I intend to practice in. Being in a research environment is quite stimulating. PhD study has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with people I wouldn’t ever have thought I would cross paths with.
One major challenge I am facing as a self-financed student is getting the resources to keep me going in the research process. It is a huge challenge, especially when you have exhausted all options and sent out several emails and letters for grants. I get my motivation from the fact that I am doing this PhD purely for the purpose of transforming lives of poor women and no matter what I encounter along the way, the end result will be worth it.
The research training has been excellent, and it has helped me a lot. It was a bit of a challenge to adjust myself back to the academic field at the initial stage because of the gap between my last master’s degree and the time I started my PhD. The workshops, seminar series, induction and social networking have all been spot on and highly relevant to my research and personal development.
My intention after the PhD programme is to devote myself entirely to how life can be more bearable for the poor women and their children in developing countries, mostly in Nigeria. I can feel the pain poor women are enduring on a daily basis in order to cater for the needs of their households. I have been there because that was the same thing my mother went through and without her input, I wouldn’t be able to know how pressing the issue of poverty is among women. I see this PhD as a way to stand up for the helpless women and their children, to support them all the way and to bring out the best in their children. I intend to do this through projects and programmes and this will be achieved by liaising with governmental and non-governmental organisations.