International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 50: Gender and microfinance/microcredit
This chapter begins by introducing microfinance/microcredit as a globally conceived poverty reduction strategy of international development institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and specifically focuses on its promotion as a method for empowering poor women. Advocates celebrate and promote microfinance/microcredit in terms of a successful strategy for simultaneously achieving both gender empowerment and poverty reduction. However, there are well-substantiated critical studies that demonstrate a disjuncture between the ‘empowering gender discourses’ and the experiences of poor women and their families targeted by microfinance/microcredit as a poverty reduction strategy. Such studies have focused on how poor women are subjected to practices of discipline and rule through microcredit schemes. In some instances this involves the deliberate appropriation of gendered cultural norms in order to secure the repayment of loans. The overall effect has been to reinforce gendered social norms, practices and relations, thereby engendering development through exploitation and further subjection of poor women and their families. In order to develop a better understanding of gender and microfinance/microcredit it is necessary to critically reflect on some fundamental aspects of the latter’s underlying premises, its institutional contexts, which should include an account of its embedding in the politics of global development more generally, the means through which gendered justifications are deployed as a form of discipline and rule, and the methods of evaluating the success or failure of such schemes.
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