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Women's Empowerment: Power to Act or Power over Other Women? Lessons from Indian Microfinance


  • Isabelle Guérin
  • Santhosh Kumar
  • Isabelle Agier


In the microfinance industry, "empowerment" is often described as a means to facilitate female emancipation from male domination. This paper draws on women's testimonies to highlight the fundamental importance of women's relationships with one another in this process. Women continuously negotiate a position between their kinship groups and neighbours, in a context where dependence on men is considered natural. Micro-credit uses are shaped by, and embody, relationships between women, including power relationships. We recommend revising current understandings of female agency to take into account the complex relationship between agency and power and challenge the conventional polarity of power as domination (power over) and power as agency (power to). In many cases, even where there is solidarity between women, women having agency require or imply domination over other women.

Suggested Citation

  • Isabelle Guérin & Santhosh Kumar & Isabelle Agier, 2013. "Women's Empowerment: Power to Act or Power over Other Women? Lessons from Indian Microfinance," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(sup1), pages 76-94, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:oxdevs:v:41:y:2013:i:sup1:p:s76-s94
    DOI: 10.1080/13600818.2013.781147

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Agier, Isabelle & Szafarz, Ariane, 2013. "Microfinance and Gender: Is There a Glass Ceiling on Loan Size?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 165-181.
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    4. Supriya Garikipati & Susan Johnson & Isabelle Guérin & Ariane Szafarz, 2017. "Microfinance and Gender: Issues, Challenges and The Road Ahead," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 53(5), pages 641-648, May.
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    6. Blanco-Oliver, Antonio & Irimia-Dieguez, Ana & Reguera-Alvarado, Nuria, 2016. "Prediction-oriented PLS path modeling in microfinance research," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(10), pages 4643-4649.
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