Rhetoric and realities of micro-credit for women in rural Ban ladesh, a village study of Grameen Bank lending

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Rahman, Aminur
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Micro-credit--small amounts of collateral-free institutional loans extended to jointly liable group members for self-employment--was first introduced by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in the mid 1970s. The "programmatic success" of the Bank-recruitment of clients, investment of loans, recovery rates on invested loans and profit margin-has internationalized micro-credit; it is now spread worldwide. There is a growing sense that micro-lending projects for women have potential to achieve the goal of equitable (women's entitlement to resources), and sustainable (independent stability and continuity) development. However, my dissertation, which is based on thirteen months of ethnographic field research on Grameen lending to women in a rural community of Bangladesh, challenges the conventional understanding of small-scale lending and the orthodox view of its success. The dissertation consists of an anthropological analysis of women borrower involvement with the credit program and implications of the lending structure for women borrowers, their household members, and bank workers. In theoretical terms women's involvement with micro-credit has been examined within the context of "normative entitlements" of patriarchy. The concepts of "public and hidden transcripts" (Scott 1990), and "practice theory" (Bourdieu 1977) are used to present the anomalies between ideology and practices of the lending institution and the informants. "Cultural hegemony" (Gramsci 1971) helps to analyse the reproduction of ideology of dominance and violence toward women in society, both unintended and organizational. The research findings suggest that women become the primary target of the micro-credit program because of their socio-cultural vulnerability, i.e., the requirements of regular attendance by borrowers in weekly meetings at the loan centre, and the rigid repayment schedule of loans. The program extends credit to women, but in the household women often "pass on" their loans to men, or men take control over women's loans, or loans are used to meet the emergency consumption needs of the household. In this system, women borrowers often lose control over their loans but bear the consequences of the debt burden in their households and loan centres. The research indicates a strong link between "programmatic success" of the Bank and current practices of credit extension to women. Debt-cycling among borrowers is a consequence, i.e., the need to pay off previous loans with new ones. Bank workers are expected to increase disbursement of loans among their clients and press for high recovery rates to earn the profit necessary for institutional economic viability. The bank workers and borrowing peer loan group members in centres press on clients for timely repayment, rather than working to raise collective consciousness and borrower empowerment as envisaged in the Bank's public transcript. Institutional debt burdens on individual households increases tension and anxiety among household members which in turn produces new forms of social and institutional dominance over many women borrowers of the project.