Is Microfinance a ‘Magic Bullet’ for Women’s Empowerment? Analysis of Findings from South Asia

Citation:

Kabeer, Naila. 2005. “Is Microfinance a ‘Magic Bullet’ for Women’s Empowerment? Analysis of Findings from South Asia.” Economic and Political Weekly 40 (44-45): 4709–18.

Author: Naila Kabeer

Abstract:

Opinions on the impact of microfinance have been divided between those who see it as a “magic bullet” for women’s empowerment and others who are dismissive of its abilities as a cure-all panacea for development. This paper seeks to examine the empirical evidence on the impact of microfinance with respect to poverty reduction and empowerment of poor women.

The author argues that the provision of financial services, like the provision of any development resource, represents a range of possibilities, rather than a predetermined set of outcomes. It notes that which of these possibilities are realised in practice will be influenced by a host of factors, including philosophy that governs their delivery, the extent to which they are tailored to the needs and interests of those they are intended to reach, the nature of the relationships which govern their delivery and the calibre and commitment of the people who are responsible for their delivery.

The paper is specifically interested in the extent to which access to financial services helps poor women address their practical daily needs as well as their strategic gender interests and whether the approach taken makes a difference to these outcomes. It is also suggested that how needs are addressed may be as critical as which needs are addressed in bringing about the larger structural transformation embodied in the idea of strategic gender interests.

The conclusion proposes the need for caution in talking about the impact of microfinance, in general, and the need to talk about the impact the particular organisations have had in particular contexts. However, regardless of the pace and the extent of the change that they bring about, the review in this paper suggests that microfinance offers an important and effective means to achieving change on a number of different fronts, economic, social and perhaps also political. Nevertheless it becomes apparent that access to financial services does not “automatically” empower poor women and their households. An intervention is contingent on context, commitment and capacity if this potential is to become a reality. (Rural Finance Learning Center)

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Political Economies Regions: Asia, South Asia

Year: 2005

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