This study investigates the development intervention of microfinance programs with women borrowers in strong patriarchal communities such as in rural Bangladesh. Using Rahman's framework (1999) of 'public transcript' vs. 'hidden transcript', we describe how women's structural vulnerability is understood and leveraged by the microfinance institutions (MFIs). The findings in this paper is based on data from 331 surveys and 40 in-depth interviews from Dumuria, a southern sub-district of Bangladesh. We found that MFIs’ providers largely conceptualized women's empowerment as increasde in financial participation, mobility and household decision-making. Although the MFIs present microfinance programs as successfully contributing to women’s empowerment, we found that the patriarchal gender norm(s) pervasive in rural Bangladesh meant that men controlled and used most of the microfinance loans. We also found that MFI's do little to monitor or address this issue, instead, they emphasizing high loan recovery rates as evidence of women’s empowerment. Furthermore, MFIs leveraged women's structural vulnerability apparent in the gendered division of labour, mobility restrictions, and notions of honour and shame to ensure the high recovery rates. We conclude that MFIs obscure the reality of their ulterior profit-making motives with the rhetoric of false narratives of women's empowerment.
- Women's empowerment
- Women’s structural vulnerabilities