South African women farmers work the swamps planting anything from bananas to sweet potatoes or spinach.
South African women farmers work the swamps planting anything from bananas to sweet potatoes or spinach. - 

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Scott Jagow: Today's a national holiday in South Africa. It's Women's Day. Women are a big part of Africa's informal economy. They make up 80 percent of subsistence farmers and food traders, but women generally don't have a place to put what little money they earn. One group hopes to change that by opening a women's bank. Gretchen Wilson reports from Johannesburg.


Gretchen Wilson: The Pan-African Women's Bank won't be a slick corporate firm. It'll be more like a co-op, devoted to women who've never had access to formal banking services.

Sindy Dastile: Our women, they don't have the criteria that the big banks are looking at. Like, they don't even have the pay slip.

That's Sindy Dastile, a microfinance specialist who hopes to launch the bank by 2010. She says it'll empower women by providing microloans and teaching them about business.

But a more basic need is a bank where uneducated, rural women feel safe storing their money, even as little as $2 a month.

Dastile: Because saving is the answer to poverty.

Since some customers will be illiterate, founders hope to use photos and thumbprint-recognition technology instead of a lot of complicated forms.

In the next three years, their goal is to raise at least $2 million dollars in private capital.

In Johannesburg, I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.