The first Banker Ladies Council was held on the 22nd of April 2022 in Toronto, Canada, by Women cooperators who put together self-managed informal cooperatives commonly known as Rotating Savings and Credit Associations –ROSCAs for short. These women cooperators in charge of organizing ROSCAs call themselves the Banker Ladies. This meeting was convened because the women want ROSCAs to be recognized in Canadian society as a form of mutual aid and cooperative institution so that we can end the harms and stigmas against those who use these systems.
The point of the Banker Ladies Council is to bring change
The focus of this Banker Ladies Council was to gather a select group of women from the east and west who work on ending poverty and are continuously organizing ROSCAs as a principal lifeline. The women insist they manage ROSCAs to meet livelihood needs such as children’s education fees, marriage costs, and buying inventory for their sideline business or travel.
The council was rich in discussion about how to find ways in which we can change the commercial banking system so that it reaches excluded people. ROSCAs are what have enabled these women to stand up on their own two feet, send their children to college and university, and build a community based on trust and mutual reciprocity. One Banker Lady recounted how her life’s struggles have been eased through the support from Esusu. She was able to earn a degree and raise her children as well as her sister’s children, who are also under her care. A feat that would not have been possible without the support of her community built around their ROSCA. The women are unanimous in their sentiments towards the effectiveness of ROSCAs and the enormous impact they have had on their own respective lives.
ROSCAs are truly about so much more than simply the binaries of money and being shut out of commercial, financial banks, and institutions. ROSCAs are about the community support, mutual reciprocity, and social backing that each member has with one another. It was evident in listening to the harms that policy making has eschewed community-based mutual aid ROSCA systems. There is a severe deficit and lack of education among the state, leaders, and general population about ROSCAs, and a lot is left to be done.
State harms being done to Black women cooperators
The meeting allowed the women to share testimonials about the traumas they have experienced as cooperators. Presently, these women are facing immense intersectional oppressions as newcomers, Muslims, Black women, and low-income earners. This lived experience is at the very core of the Black Social Economy, which takes inventory of the politicized collective activity that racially excluded people organize to combat business exclusion. These women organize ROSCAs to teach vulnerable and discarded Canadian citizens how to be part of civil life through collaboration and togetherness. Through the meeting, we instrumentally learned that the financial aspects of a ROSCA are only one part of it, but it is the social dimension that is the glue for these systems.
In the meeting, Black women recounted past horrors of police brutality, invasion of their homes on illegal searches, and the confiscation of ROSCA funds for no apparent reason. One chief Banker Lady, revealed how the police entered their home for no reason in the middle of the night. She recalls the fear that crept through her as one officer allegedly held a gun to her young son’s head and how she screamed at the kids to take cover. Out of desperation, she turned over her group’s Osusu funds to the police officers, at which point they left her home.
Another member shared how she was harassed by a police officer who fecklessly said her money had been illegally obtained through selling drugs or other illicit substances because he had no knowledge about ROSCAs. A Banker Lady born in Jamaica explained that the fear extends even to her neighbors who are unaware of these mutual aid financing groups and will often go to lengths such as spying, calling the cops, and describing her ROSCA activities as illicit. The women have been repeatedly accused of engaging in illegal activities such as selling drugs, money laundering, or creating pyramid schemes. A Somali Canadian testified that Somali women are routinely losing thousands of dollars when their homes are raided coincidentally right around when an Ayuuto meeting will take place. All in all, the women had no shortage of examples where they are being continually violated for being cooperators.
Canadians are not aware of these harms because they occur behind closed doors. Black women are having their homes raided, and their privacy violated. Being held at gunpoint by police is not an uncommon tragedy. These marginalized women have faced extreme violence and brutalization by the state. Those with power can taunt them and take their monies because ROSCAs remain unknown. They have no one to turn to.
Formal banks also stigmatize Black women
Commercial banks also make it difficult for Black women to live and meet their economic needs. To make matters worse, these women are, in any case, rejected and poorly helped by commercial, financial institutions who will question where they get their money from and often refuse to help them engage in money transfers and other ordinary economic activities.
Bankers profile these women and look at them suspiciously, delay them in being helped and label them as scammers, money launderers, or drug mules. A Banker Lady explained that when she goes to her local commercial bank, she is treated as a criminal, as a second-class citizen. Thus she tries her best to avoid going into the bank. On one occasion, when it was her turn to be helped, the bank teller refused to believe that the money she was trying to cash through a cheque was indeed hers. They repeatedly asked her for countless documents that no one else was required to present and kept refusing to believe that she had procured the cheque legally. This type of frustration that these women experience is particularly hurtful because the money they collect is made with utmost honesty, legality, hard work, and patience. To have something you put so much into reduced to something you would never dream of is in the least demeaning, disrespectful, and disparaging.
The stigmas that the Banker Ladies endure in Canada have profound legal implications. The women fear the police and neighbors when they organize ROSCAs, but they must organize ROSCAs because mainstream banks have failed to eliminate racial discrimination. Thus, their only choice is to turn to the support of ROSCAs.
The second Banker Ladies Council will run towards the end of July.
The Banker Ladies by Caroline Shenaz Hossein is a short film that tells the stories of three Black women in Toronto, Canada, producing diverse financial services for their communities through Rotating Saving and Credit Associations (ROSCAs):