Microcredit and Women’s Empowerment: Have We Been Looking at the Wrong Indicators?
Impact evaluation studies routinely find that lending to women benefits their households, but not necessarily the women concerned. The reasons for this paradox are not well understood. This, I argue, is partly because of the obsession with viewing women’s empowerment as outcomes alone and ignoring the processes leading to these. I investigate this paradox by examining the processes surrounding loan use for a case study from rural India. The way in which women’s loans are used is found to be critical to their empowerment. Specifically, women whose loans are invested in household assets can find the process disempowering. This is because women lack co-ownership in household’s productive assets. Where loan diversion by households cannot be controlled, women’s joint ownership of household assets emerges as integral to their empowerment. This paper cautions against the excessive focus on women’s outcomes as a measure of their empowerment.
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