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Microfinance as “Progressive” Gender and Development Policy?: the Bangladesh Experience (Part 4) January 21, 2010

Posted by Athiqah Nur Alami in Gender, International Relations, Women.
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Progressive or Burden?

It is acknowledged that studies which used the individual and the household approaches to examine the implications of microfinance on women’s empowerment most often resulted in conflicting findings. This paper shows that microfinance is not a perfect development strategy in gender and development policy. The positive and negative impacts of microfinance are a two-sided coin that cannot be separated.

Based on the previous discussion, I analyze that microfinance cannot be considered as a progressive gender and development policy. First, the assessment of women’s empowerment at the individual level does not show comprehensive and intact progress for women. The progress in women’s empowerment always contains risks on the other side. For example, a woman may, herself, eat better and feel better able to provide more income for her family, but at the same time may have extended the length of her work day or increased the intensity of her work.

Second, microfinance practices have not adapted to a systematic approach to enabling both women and men to contribute together in the program. Microfinance practices have not reflected gender mainstreaming in the gender and development policy which emphasizes men’s role. Men or husbands have not contributed positively in advancing gender equality and gender relations. For example, some studies revealed that credits have close relations with the likelihood of domestic violence.

Microfinance can cover progress in several domains of development. For example, progress in the economic domain is obvious when the credits can reduce poverty, provide continuous funds to their home, and strengthen economic conditions of the household. Also, the profits from their enterprise can increase their assets and purchasing power. Through income-generating activities in the program, women can enhance entrepreneurial skills for a sustaining empowerment.

However, their economic progress does not necessarily lead to their welfare. For instance, husbands still pay less attention to women’s health and vulnerability, including nutrition issues. The domain of welfare closely relates to the domain of security in terms of the need for protection. It is true that microfinance cannot eliminate the likelihood of domestic violence, however, their participation in microfinance and economic contribution generally may reduce violence.

In the social and political domain, progress can be seen in their capability to negotiate gender-relations with their husband. The enhanced role of the women may even generate a much-needed expanded area of communication between wife and husband, including shared decision-making in domestic matters and control of the use of loans. . This ability also can help to empower husbands and children. Ultimately, progress may lead to gender-equality between women and men, at least within the household.

Social and political progress can be seen practically at the level of the collective dimension of empowerment such as in groups and in society; however, it is beyond the focus of this paper. In terms of identity, women have freedom in self-actualization and self-determination. The activities in the group also bring benefits to building confidence, knowledge and self-esteem. The domain of identity cannot be separated from culture and religion. In the case of Bangladesh, it suggests that in some instances cultural tradition undermines the progress of women’s empowerment.

However, it cannot be ignored that many women in Bangladesh still believe and hold their culture sincerely, such as the respect of their husband. Ultimately the perception of progress and burden of microfinance practices depends on the way we regard the situation.


The impact of microfinance on women’s empowerment at the individual level shows mixed results. While access to microfinance can and does make vital contributions to the economic productivity and social well-being of poor women and their households, it does not automatically empower women who seek to bring about a radical structural transformation.

On one hand, microfinance is still promising as one of the strategies of development. Women’s empowerment through microfinance might lead to gender equality through enhanced self-confidence, resources, coping abilities, freedom of choice and power-relations. It also contributes substantially to the well-being of women, reduces women’s vulnerability and poverty, and provides stable and continuous income for family. In this context, microfinance can be considered a progressive gender and development policy.

However, the achievements of microfinance on women’s empowerment contain risks for women’s and the family’s security. There are also several quantitative and qualitative factors which could contribute to women’s empowerment, particularly qualitative ones, for instance, religious beliefs, household type, and husbands’ attitudes. Traditional socio-cultural norms have a significant impact on patriarchal societies like Bangladesh.

However, I acknowledge that this essay might neither explain the women’s whole situation nor represent the real empowerment of women in Bangladesh. Yet, at least this essay shows the dilemma of the impact of microfinance for women’s empowerment, particularly in the society where traditional beliefs and practices are deeply entrenched in women’s lives.


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©athiqahnuralami.wordpress.com, 2010.

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1. deamotta - January 30, 2010

Loved it! Thanks for sharing. I posted a link to this paper on my blog, if you don’t mind. Keep the great work.


Athiqah Nur Alami - January 30, 2010

Ok, no worries :). Thanks for visiting my blog..

2. She Drives a Dodge Stratus: The Role of the Husband | Develop Economies - May 23, 2011

[…] benefits of empowering women.  The effectiveness of microfinance at achieving this end is often disputed.  In my experience, it is something very real and apparent.  The degree to which microfinance has […]

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