1.0 Background to the study
Microfinance is the provision of a broad range of financial services to poor low-income households and micro enterprises (Amin and Pebley, 1994). Research interest in the issue of access to microfinance particularly by women has been on a rising trend in recent times. Bennet and Goldberg (1993) asserted that in developing economies, low-income women are often victims of societal suppression and abuse; while their counterparts in developed economies are victims of lending discrimination. It is therefore argued that lending to women may help empower them economically and socially.
The heightened interest in the gender dimension of microfinance in recent times stems from the fact that women are often seen as instruments for societal change and development and as such, empowering them may be of great benefit to society. Access to credit by women has therefore become the main subject of many global and regional conferences, seminars and workshops. Experts have widely acknowledged the substantial contribution of small and micro enterprises (of which women participation constitute larger percentage) to the socio-economic development of a nation, therefore the need to support them to grow. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that, the most important goal, which every society in the contemporary world has set for itself, is to empower its women to be able to afford basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter; as well as be part of decision making in the home and community. In many societies in Africa, which Nigeria is no exception, women are not fully integrated into the socio-economic development process (Meyer, 1992) and one of the possible implications is that, these societies are deprived of their full utilization of their human resource capabilities and potentials. Education, in its true sense brings some level of empowerment and once a woman is empowered it will subsequently lead to a reduction in poverty in various societies, education helps women to contribute meaningfully to development through participation in decision making which has been perceived to be the prerogative of men.