Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank in 1976 and claims that the organization is actively involved in changing and improving the world for women.2 Grameen Bank introduced microcredit in an innovative social intermediation, where the institution provides small loans to jointly liable poor group members. The Bank’s “ultimate policy aim of the group formation is the empowerment of poor women.”3 Yunus claims that lending to women is a productive way to help poor women gain socio-economic empowerment in the broader society.4 The Bank also highlights that women tend to spend income that flows through their hands differently than men, using less for personal use and distributing to children’s nutrition and education.5 This is what Aminur Rahman calls a “public transcript”, which reflects the program’s philosophies and official view of the Bank’s operations. However, the “hidden transcript” is one that is contrary to the public transcript. It targets women because of their vulnerability and high repayment rates; they are a “good credit risk.”6
Women are not empowered because their loans are often directly distributed to their husbands or male relatives who supply installments to women for their weekly payment to the Bank. This goes against the “public transcript” and does the opposite of empowering women. According to Rac Lessor Blumberg and his fieldwork, the key factor that influences overall gender equality is a relative control of economic resources between men and women.7 Neither mere work in economic activities nor even ownership of economic resources is enough if the person does not control them. Goetz and Gupta’s research suggests why women give their loans to their male relatives.
Goetz and Gupta investigated 275 loans that women made in four organizations, including Grameen Bank with 53 of the loans. In 37 % of the cases women retained full or significant control of the loan, while “63 % of the cases fall into the three categories of partial, very limited, or no control: indicating a fairly significant pattern of loss of direct control over credit.”8 Although not all of the 63% goes to men’s activities (some goes to less gender specific activities, e.g. consumption and stocking), the results show a clear loss in loan use and it gives a picture of power hierarchies in a society such as Bangladesh, where money is scarce. There were several factors that influenced the managerial control of the loan, one was marital status; women are more likely to retain full control over loan use when they were widowed or separated. When women are married they look to retain familial stability and in order to uphold their marriages they hand over loans to their husbands.9 These choices are rational considering a woman’s life in Bangladesh is depended on security in marriage. Also the size of the loan matters as Rahman found women retained full control of the loans that were in small amounts. Women also use informal credit exchanges between other women, particularly rice, as women are able to bring it into the household and retain control of this type of exchange without notifying the male household members. Cash, especially in larger amounts, is culturally thought of as a resource that men manage.10 Therefore, women are just a medium of exchange when it comes to cash and have no control