Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Unequal Market Access

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Unequal Market Access

Article excerpt


Rural markets are often vibrant places where people from all walks of life gather to buy and sell things. But look more closely and it's clear that markets in some countries are not as inclusive as they at first seem.

In Bangladesh, for instance, women are excluded from most market activities. Because encouraging markets is taken for granted as a way to promote economic development, 'What does it mean when many people, especially women, are not in a position or allowed by local norms and traditions to participate in markets?" asks Johanna Mair, a visiting scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Mair and her colleagues Ignasi Marti of the EMLYON Business School and Marc J. Ventresca of the University of Oxford tackled this question by analyzing market building in rural Bangladesh. Their findings challenge the accepted idea that filling certain institutional voids, such as granting people autonomy and property rights, will lead to the establishment of inclusive markets.

In Bangladesh, these institutional voids are actually "full of institutions," Mair says. The institutions are not ones established by the government but are "locally emerging norms and rules of the game that come from the community sphere, from religion, and from political spheres," she explains.

For example, the Bangladeshi constitution grants all citizens ownership rights and protection of property. But in reality, the patriarchal culture confers the control and ownership of women's property to men. The Muslim practice of purdah obligates women to stay close to home, limit contact with unrelated men, and avoid visibility in public. …

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