Hidden Opportunities: Islam, Masculinity and Poverty Alleviation


Ahmed, Fauzia. 2008. “Hidden Opportunities: Islam, Masculinity and Poverty Alleviation.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 10 (4): 542–62.

Author: Fauzia Ahmed


Much has been written about patriarchal interpretations of Islam as an obstacle to poverty alleviation in the gender and development literature in Bangladesh, but little research has been carried out on its counterpoint: grassroots Muslim feminist spirituality. Islam is seen as a patriarchal monolith; Muslim men are viewed as inherently inimical to gender empowerment programs. Based on a sample of 200 male and female villagers, this ethnographic study of sharecropper micro credit families revealed at least three masculinities: ‘high-minded (udaar)’, ‘mixed’ and ‘abusive (beshi mare)’. The author analyzes three vignettes of Muslim husbands of Grameen Bank loanees, to illustrate the role that Islam plays in the construction of the different masculinities that these men represent. Muslim women see Islam as a positive force and use boodhi' (wisdom), based on Muslim spirituality as a tool to argue for greater mobility and market access. Increased patriarchal risk compels ‘high-minded’ men to remain silent in public while ‘abusive’ men publicly denounce the Grameen Bank and the loanees as against Islam. In conclusion, the author suggests that field staff enable ‘high-minded’ men to use boodhi to change other men and to ally with women in their efforts to gain agency. These recommendations are part of a larger project that the author initiated in 2007, which is based on including masculinity as an analytic category in gender and development theory, and on using men to change other men as a key strategy in gender and development programs.

Keywords: Islam, masculinities, gender and grassroots politics, patriarchy, development, empowerment, microfinance

Topics: Development, Economies, Poverty, Feminisms, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Religion Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Bangladesh

Year: 2008

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