Much of the world’s poor—a majority of whom are women—remain without access to basic financial services including loans, savings accounts, and insurance products. We know from our experience working with microfinance institutions across the globe that healthcare exerts the most financial pressure on poor families given that they have little ability to absorb risk, and that medical emergencies can place a huge burden on households already struggling to stay afloat. The money required to cope with these unexpected health issues often forces families to redirect their capital away from school fees or business investments that are necessary for improving the livelihoods of the poor.
Short-term solutions like selling productive assets such as livestock or farming equipment serve as a catalyst for moving further into poverty, depriving families of the tools they once had to generate revenue. For families that rely on a single income, the health of the breadwinner is imperative to survival. Moreover, medical problems are compounded by the fact that the poor are less likely to seek treatment early in an illness for fear of losing income by taking time away from their jobs or businesses. Both poor men and women suffer from lack of access to healthcare, but the need to serve women is acute: women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor, their cultural roles make them the primary caretakers and they have unique health needs and physical vulnerabilities that make them a critical segment to target in the battle against poverty, yet the majority of microinsurance available precludes care for some of women’s most pressing health concerns.
When a serious illness befalls a family member, the woman typically attends to the needs of the ill person taking her away from her business and profits associated with that work. In countries where the government covers health care costs, the woman as caregiver still has numerous costs that she must bear including transportation to the hospital, communications with family members and other miscellaneous costs not provided for in standard microinsurance products. In response to this void, Women’s World Banking set designed a product that would be easy to implement, responsive to women’s needs, and sustainable for the microfinance institution delivering the product.
In April of 2010, Women’s World Banking helped its network member Microfund for Women in Jordan launch a first of its kind gender-sensitive microinsurance called The Caregiver Policy (Ri’aya in Arabic), that helps women cope with the financial burdens associated with a medical emergency. This policy is designed specifically for women, providing coverage for any incidental expenses incurred as a result of hospitalization, including childbirth. In partnership with Zurich Financial Services Group and their local Jordanian partner Al Amara, and with support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Women’s World Banking is making this innovative insurance product available to Microfund for Women’s 52,000 borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. To get coverage, clients pay a nominal monthly premium with their loan repayment and receive coverage equivalent to around $14 U.S. Dollars for each night they stay in the hospital. Unlike the majority of microfinance products available, the Caregiver health insurance was designed to cover all hospital visits related to pregnancy, a feature that Women’s World Banking felt was critical to include to improve maternal health. Clients can use their coverage on anything from household needs, business losses while her business has been closed due to a medical emergency and transportation to a medical facility. The results of the pilot have been outstanding, and have demonstrated that the product is meeting women’s unique health needs. Women's World Banking will continue to partner with institutions and insurance companies to expand the product to other microfinance institutions.