Many of the world's poorest women are self-employed in small businesses.  For the past two decades, it has become evident that increasing access to credit is an equitable and efficient aid to breaking the cycle of poverty, particularly for micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries.  But many specialised micro-finance institutions, created to reach very poor, small-scale borrowers who are cut off from more conventional credit sources, do not always reach women.  The assumption that credit in fact helped increase women's and men's income and individual well-being remained largely untested. 

In addressing this issue, the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) undertook a series of research studies on the administrative, legal and institutional barriers to credit that women encounter at various levels of the economy, particularly in rural areas.  As part of a comprehensive global overview of gender and credit, INSTRAW further addressed the problems of gender-based methodology and substance in a study of the operations of the Association for the Development of Micro-Enterprises (ADEMI) in the Dominican Republic.   

The objectives of study, which included both male and female clients, were to clarify the results of credit in terms of individual income, family health and nutrition, business reinvestment and job creation.  The survey also attempted to analyse the relative importance of several variables, such as whether or not a woman was head of a household.   

The study verified that when women had access to credit, sales and income increased, sometimes dramatically, and women were likely to allocate a significant proportion of this additional income to their families' health, nutrition and education.  For heads of household, the major motive was not personal economic advancement but rather the financial stability of their families and, in some cases, their very survival.  In addition, women solely or primarily responsible for their families were likely to reinvest a larger portion of their profits in their businesses in order to preserve or expand their income-generating capacities, although family needs were still very important.