Women's socioeconomic empowerment and nutritional status: the case of Grameen Bank micro-credit programme in rural Bangladesh.
Thesis DisciplineFeminist Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Many development policies have been implemented with a focus on practical gender needs to improve women's lives in Bangladesh. However, these programmes have paid little attention to implementing women's strategic gender needs and consequently have failed to bring significant changes to poverty and malnutrition among rural women in Bangladesh. As an extension of economic development programmes the Grameen Bank micro-credit institution in Bangladesh provides credit to the rural poor, particularly women. It operates in more than half of the villages through loans disbursement to 2.3 million members of whom 95 percent are women. The question to be raised is to what extent does the Grameen Bank credit scheme generate women's income activities with the prospect of empowering them against poverty and malnutrition. The major concern of my Ph.D. research is to examine the impact of Grameen Bank credit on empowering rural women socially and economically which, in turn, improves women's health and nutrition. The theoretical frameworks used for assessing the impact of credit activities on empowering women are drawn from the Harvard Analytical Framework (1980), Longwe's (1994) Women's Empowerment Assessment Framework, and Kabeer's (1998), using indicators to assess women's empowerment. The five specific dimensions are: (1) women's economic activities, (2) women's control over income, (3) access to and control over productive resources, (4) women's freedom of mobility, and (5) market access, all of which have been adapted and used to assess women's empowerment through credit activities. My research methodology consists of ethnographic field research, including in-depth interviews of women's experiences, participant observations and focus group discussion. I employ both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data, which was collected from December 1999 to April 2000. Two groups of women are considered in this study, those who were involved in the Grameen Bank credit activities, and those who did not access Grameen credit. A total of 144 participants, including Muslim and Hindu backgrounds and Grameen Bank staff, were involved in the study. The study found the majority of women have no control over their loans. Women hand over their loans to male family members to invest in more profitable male-dominated economic activities, beyond the domestic sphere. The result is that women have no say or little say in how their loan money is to be used and for what purposes. In addition, women who invest their loans in traditional female economic activities depend largely on males for marketing their products. It is also found that although women take loans, provide more energy and time, and bear the burden of re-payment, it is men who use their prevailing traditional power to buy productive assets in their own name and under their control. For the majority of women their lives have become more vulnerable and have slipped into deeper poverty and malnutrition. Factors such as women's restricted mobility, lack of market access, and rigid gender cultural practices are major obstacles to women's empowerment through credit activities. The study also found only a small minority of women have benefited from the Grameen micro-credit scheme. These women are mostly Hindu low caste widows, who have had market access and became involved in the production and management of male-managed economic activities. These activities increase women's negotiation skills, widen their knowledge and market information and enhance their courage and self-confidence in challenging patriarchal social structures in their community. In general, there are no significant differences between Grameen and non-Grameen Bank women in terms of control over income, market access, and control over productive assets. The nutritional status of women is assessed using: (a) body mass index, (b) food frequency questionnaire, and (c) 3-day food consumption patterns. Nutritional adequacy and deficiency are assessed and compared with recommended dietary allowances in Bangladesh. Most of the Grameen Bank women are nutritionally deficient compared to non-Grameen women. Grameen Bank women's heavy workload and debt burden, lack of control over income and expenditure combined with gender disparity in household resource allocation, are viewed as critical in negatively impacting on women's health and nutritional status. The computer programme Epinfo version 6, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and Nutrition programmes were used to analyse data. Power point was used to seminar presentation of my research themes and findings.