Microcredit, Men, and Masculinity


The impact of masculinity on poverty alleviation is strikingly absent in the vast literature on microcredit, the cornerstone of gender empowerment programs worldwide. A binary framework, which excludes male relatives of microcredit loanees, prevails in the Grameen Bank paradigm; it exacerbates domestic violence and prevents joint decision-making on the loan. As part of a larger feminist theoretical project that deconstructs “universal man,” this article illustrates how a nuanced picture of low-income men and masculinities is useful to practitioners. The author lived with sharecropper families in rural Bangladesh in 2001 to conduct the research on a subset of 73 men and women, drawn from a larger sample of 200 villagers. She contrasts four vignettes of “high-minded,” “abusive,” “mixed,” and habla (lacking in common sense) husbands of Grameen Bank loanees along four categories: notions of an ideal wife, domestic violence, loan decisions, and fatherhood. She argues that as the first step of a poverty alleviation strategy that uses men to change men, high-minded men and masculinity also need to be rewarded even as abusive men and masculinity need to be transformed. The article concludes with recommendations for the Grameen Bank, which analyze ways in which high-minded men can be identified, supported, and rewarded so that they can act as social change agents to prevent domestic violence, within the household and in the community.