Dignity and Empowerment: An Exploration of the Microcredit Experiences of Women in Rural Bangladesh

By Lipi, Rahima K. | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Dignity and Empowerment: An Exploration of the Microcredit Experiences of Women in Rural Bangladesh


Lipi, Rahima K., Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

Modern microcredit as a tool of economic and social development emerged in rural Bangladesh and worldwide through the pioneer organization the Grameen Bank, established in the 1970s. Microcredit continues to be touted as the tool and 'magic bullet' solution to reduce poverty and enhance the empowerment of women within the development debate (Edwards & Hulme, 1996). The assumption underlying the practice is that microcredit can be a vehicle toward promoting women's empowerment while they are living in less than privileged conditions.

The socio-economic background of the study participants

The general socio-economic background of rural women in Bangladesh is largely based on discrimination and domination. For example, only 3.5 percent (0.62 million) out of 17.8 million agricultural holdings are female owned, despite equality being enshrined in the legal system (World Bank, 2008). Furthermore, due to women's limited access to the labor market, marriage is practiced as the ultimate solution for social security and survival (Amin, 2008). This situation is associated with other social problems including early age marriage and childbirth, dowries (3), domestic violence, and required veiling (Nasrin, 2011; UNICEF, 2010; Kandiyoti, 1988; Dil, 1985; Rozario, 2006; Zaman, 1999). Given this overall situation, women's developmental and social interventions programs such as microcredit have been considered important.

The philosophical aspects of microcredit and the nature of empowerment

Microcredit is a tool of economic and social development. The notion of women's empowerment within microcredit programs provides for collateral-free credit, which includes terms for repayment with interest, provided to women to become entrepreneurs, as well as playing a key role in developing increased social awareness and decision-making capacity (Grameen Bank 2011.) (4) When women are given entrepreneurial responsibilities, they are also held responsible for repaying their loans (ibid). The philosophical aspects of microcredit and the nature of the empowerment it was intended to produce are clear from an essay written by Grameen Bank founder, Dr. Yunus in "Credit for Self-Employment: a Fundamental Human Right": the economic system must be competitive" where he states, "competition is the driving force for all innovation, technological change, and improved management." (Yunus, 2003. p. 206). Thus, microfinance is situated both within neoliberal and the capitalist approaches to profit (McDermott, 2001). Within this described philosophical terrain, microcredit encourages viable income-generating activities such as paddy husking, lime-making, manufacturing, pottery, weaving, and garment sewing. A trustworthy peer group is created for the women participating in microcredit and creates professional solidarity. The 'credit-plus program' or the supplemental support within the microcredit scheme begins with teaching illiterate members how to write their signature, providing clarification of organizational rules, and social awareness training based on promises known as the Sixteen Decisions. The goal of the Sixteen Decisions was to empower women through networking with each other in order to create a knowledge base about labor, unity, discipline, and the issues of dowry and child marriage. The Grameen Bank found microcredit to be a successful scheme with a 97 percent loan recovery rate.

The critical perspective and relevance of the current article

Reports from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have shown microcredit to be an enormous success. For example, the World Bank (2006) reported that microcredit has enabled the poor to increase their incomes, reduced poverty levels and vulnerability, and has assisted poor households in moving beyond everyday survival to planning for the future, improving living conditions, education levels and health (The World Bank report, 2006). …

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