How the persistence of patriarchy undermines the financial empowerment of women microfinance borrowers? Evidence from a southern sub-district of Bangladesh

Tunvir Ahamed Shohel, Sara Niner, Samanthi Gunawardana

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A significant body of multi-disciplinary research supports the proposition that women may experience empowerment from microfinance programs. This is based on the assumption that an increase in women's financial contribution to the household helps to transform gender norms and relations which increases their decision-making power. However, the relationship between the strength and persistence of patriarchal gender norms within the household and women's financial empowerment needs further exploration. This paper presents the findings of a mixed-method study comprising 331 surveys and 33 in-depth interviews with women receiving microfinance and their husbands in a southern sub-district of Bangladesh; it draws upon gender socialisation and gender performance theory to understand how patriarchal gender norms influence women's financial empowerment in households receiving microfinance. Findings demonstrate that participation in microfinance programs has not shifted gender norms, nor financially empowered women. Women's loans were largely controlled by men as prescribed by underlying, unchanged patriarchal gender norms. The inter-generational reproduction of patriarchal gender relations continued to reproduce a strict gendered division of labour that reinforced restrictions on women's behaviour, mobility, and decision-making domains, and men's dominance in household and economic decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0250000
Number of pages21
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • microfinance
  • gender
  • women
  • Bangladesh

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