The silent revolution of women’s empowerment through micro-finance is caught in the culture of violence and repression in a patriarchal society.
Despite 90 per cent of the total 30 million loan borrowers are rural women, they have experienced social conflicts, which hinders them from decision-making process within the family and society, said Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), at a seminar. The seminar was organised jointly by National Caucus for Women’s Economic Empowerment in the capital Dhaka.
He said that there are incidents that women have delayed in repayment of their regular instalments due to social conflicts, but supervision and monitoring have stopped them short of becoming a defaulter, he said.
The microfinance which was experimented in Bangladesh have mesmerised the world, the responsibility also lies with Bangladesh amend the problems of micro-finance which immensely empowered women and the society globally.
He insisted that the NGOs and private organisations should increase the limit of credit to women borrowers from Taka few thousand to Tk three to Tk five lakh. PKSF has provided loans from Tk five to Tk 10 lakh and have yielded positive result on employment generation, he said.
Dr Ahmad urged all to shun the word ‘micro’ as it seriously shrinks the mindset of the NGO engaged in microfinance to approve small loans, especially to women.
He however, agrees with others that microfinance has definitely helped rural people to cross the threshold of poverty line and graduate to lower and middle-class society. Crossing the thick line of poverty is obviously slow, but according to international study of 2007-2008, empowerment of underprivileged has enabled 10 per cent of the landless, hard crore poor and vulnerable population to shed poverty and blessed by quality of life, he remarked.
Hosne Ara Khan, Member Secretary of the caucus, in her keynote paper said the women do not have control over the loan, not to speak of income from the microfinance. Bereft of cash, it cast shadows over her power, dignity and prestige, a vision which was brief.
A woman endures double burden compared to their male partners. Women have no way to refuse responsibility of household chores, take care of the family and work for the project for which she took modest loan, she said.
If a woman in a family compromise with her responsibilities, the society takes a toll on her. She is subjected to repression, cruelty, and suffer mental and physical torture, Hosne Ara remarked.
Nevertheless, a visible women population who are beneficiaries of microfinance were elected to local government position against male contestants, many of them have been included as members of the social organisations committees, which provide hopes that women are able to establish their rights by availing offers of the community services agencies, she said.
Hosne Ara also chief of USHA claimed that the Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA) has accepted seven recommendations out of 22, which she claims would be beneficial in ensuring harmony, coordination and supervision of the microfinance agencies.
Shaheen Anam, chief of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said that studies show women’s ‘unaccounted income’ was three times higher from the women workers in regular jobs.
She lamented that 10 per cent of the women beneficiaries of microfinance have control over their income and have a say in the family and society.
Dr Sadika Halim, chair of the caucus said her network and PKSF are jointly engaged in developing microfinance policy and home rules for loan recipient.
She said male-headed households or male counterpart who is responsible for repression on women is not eligible for microfinance. So are those males who have wedded a child bride, or a polygamist, or have received dowry through coercion are barred from loans, the former Right to Information Commissioner said.
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA) is an awarding winning reporter and writes on conflicts, ethnicity and media rights