A common feature of all my meetings with females who had taken loans from BERDO was their inability to see themselves as atomised individuals but as families. In most cases, loans taken by females had been invested by their husbands/sons into productive pursuits and sometimes in unproductive ones. While females were responsible for paying the weekly instalments, males took all the business decisions – a situation that degenerated into domestic violence at times. Skewed power-relations within the household are as much a result of social hierarchies, as the sexual division of labour that prevail in Bangladeshi society. And every loan used by a male member of the family further harnesses conditions for the reproduction of such gender inequalities.
Roshanara Begum, a widow from Barisal, is an exception to this rule. She is fifty-five years old and has three sons. The first of her sons works as a tailor, the second at a shop and the third pulls a rickshaw (the one with whom she stays). But Roshanara refuses to sit idle and has taken a loan of Tk 5000 from BERDO and used it to rear chickens. She buys chicks at Tk 45 a pair and sells them for Tk 100/kg to a vendor who sells them at the market – a transaction that earns her between Tk 2000 and Tk 3000 every month.
Roshanara now has 100 chickens in her poultry farm. She buys their medicines and vaccines, sawdust to keep them warm and ensures that the local vet pays them a visit every week. She also wishes to take another loan of Tk 10000 (upon repayment of her first) to expand her poultry farm. In short, she attends to all aspects of work at her poultry farm and takes all decisions. Her business, she says, has increased her worth, both in her own view and within the family and means that she is no longer a passive beneficiary.
Roshanara’s example adds further strength to the argument that micro-credit can be seen neither as an agent that institutionalises the subordination of women in the family nor as an instrument to undo dominant gender ideologies overnight. Rather, it straddles the divide between the two and when accompanied by regulations and proper integration into markets, offers hope for inter-generational changes. In its most simplified form, micro-credit that targets females represents an expansion in their potential choices. Roshanara Begum, for one, would certainly vouch for this idea.
Posted By Abhilash Medhi
Posted Sep 4th, 2009