The Heart and Science of Client Assessment

> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

If someone asked you, “In the past 12 months, have you ever been afraid of your spouse?” how do you think you’d respond? I would personally hope you’d be able to say “never”. I wouldn’t want to hear you say, “often” or even “sometimes”.

A few years back, I wrote a blog post about domestic violence and microfinance. This topic came out of the 2014 Microcredit Summit in Mexico where we were talking about health indicators. Carmen Velasco suggested we’d forgotten to add an indicator related to domestic violence to the list, since conceptually it feels that if we don’t include domestic violence under the theme of health, it might continue to not get covered anywhere.

Since the Summit, Freedom from Hunger has had a chance to ask the question I asked you above in three countries. While most demographic and health surveys and other standardized surveys on domestic violence may go through a series of questions about whether a person has experienced physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or other types of abuse, we were looking for something less invasive, if that’s possible. When I found the above question in an Indian survey, it felt right. I actually had a personal reaction to it. At one point in my life, if someone had asked me this question, I might have said “sometimes” or even “often.”

I won’t go into details here, but, at least personally, I feel like I know the difference in what “never” means compared to “sometimes”, or “often”.

When we asked this question in Burkina Faso, India, and the Philippines, 61 percent, 93 percent, and 12 percent of women, respectively, were sometimes or often afraid of their spouses in the past 12 months.

The researcher side of me says, well, we haven’t really assessed this indicator for its validity. Is it reflecting the likelihood a person is actually experiencing domestic abuse? I can’t prove it, but I feel that whether or not it does, fear is real and you know when you’ve experienced it.

When just considering the statistic for Burkina Faso, other research on the country suggests that approximately 31 percent of women suffered from physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands in the previous 12 months.  Thirty percent of men admitted to having exercised violence on their wives or daughters in the previous 12 months.  Another study found that women in Sub-Saharan Africa living in areas that experienced a recent drought that affected their partners’ income were more likely to have been abused during the last year.  Eighty-nine percent of the respondents in our research in Burkina Faso reported not being able to leave the home without permission. Most (72 percent) said they were not currently autonomous or empowered.

When we triangulate our data on abuse with other data, it seems more likely it is real and our question is picking up on an important dynamic, whether it is a validated measure or not.

The first reason I share this data is to continue raising the issue of domestic violence within financial services. In Burkina, we’ve reflected that one of the reasons women are not using a health financing product as predicted or expected is because three management committee group members of a village bank had to request permission from their husbands to travel to the local branch to withdraw their health savings funds. When we qualitatively interviewed the respondents after discovering most of them had feared their husbands in the past 12 months, we probed into the mobility issue. One group of women, when asked how they requested permission to leave their homes, said, “Sometimes we wait for a favorable moment” when their husbands are in a good mood, or when there is the presence of another person of influence on the husband. So, if three women, who are generally afraid of their husbands, have to seek permission to travel on behalf of themselves or another member of their group to a branch office outside of their small village, they’re simply going to choose the path of least resistance—and not go and then not use the product that’s designed to help them meet an important financial cost.

The second reason for sharing this data is to raise perhaps a hope and expectation for those of us who are interested in standardizing client outcomes measures for the sector. The Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) has been leading this charge and we are all eager to learn and grow in the area of client outcomes measures.  The SPTF is going to be pilot-testing a series of client outcome indicators in Peru and galvanizing input and collaboration across the globe on defining successful client outcome indicators and processes for outcomes measurement for the sector. As we prepare for this venture, I know we all appreciate and desire indicators that can be observed, validated, and backed-up. That’s why we appreciate “hard” indicators like loan size, the type of roof a household has, how much a person has in savings, etc. But I don’t want us to forget the “soft” indicators like, hope, fear, happiness, and stress.

I tend to agree with researchers like Johannes Haushofer, who wrote in Foreign Affairs, “… variables such as stress and happiness are important metrics of success for development programs. New indicators, both self-reported and biometric, offer hope of tracking the welfare of poor people more directly than the established metrics (such as income and consumption) and should be used in concert with them.”

We need hard indicators, but we also need “soft” indicators that remind us or cause us to feel, associate with, and act on behalf of the people we are serving. This type of data is important to make sure a “client” doesn’t simply become a financial inclusion metric, but can reveal to us the person, who has real life needs and with whom we can personally relate. We need indicators that compel us to act and improve what we are doing and that get to the heart of our mission to move people out of poverty.

To my sisters in Burkina Faso, India, and the Philippines. I see you.

Have you read?

Domestic Violence and Microfinance: What Is Our Role as Financial Service Providers?

Savings Groups, Mobile Phones, and a New Solution for Rural Women

Integrating Health and Microfinance in India