The vicious circles of poverty and violence

In their doctoral theses, Mohammad Jasmin Uddin and Laila Ashrafun debate the influence of micro-credits on female poverty, and mechanisms of domestic violence against women in Bangladesh.

Mohammad Jasmin Uddin and Laila Ashrafun

“Poverty does not belong in civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum, and that's where it will be”. This was Nobel prize laureate Muhammad Yunus’ firm belief when introducing micro-credits in Bangladesh in 1983. Micro-credits are small loans given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. Especially women were supposed to benefit from small loans by enabling them to produce and trade their own goods and become financially more independent.

“However, the much lauded micro-credit organisations have failed”, states Mohammad Jasmin Uddin. In his doctoral thesis he argues that, instead of empowering women, micro-credits reinforce traditional kinship and gender structures, and poverty in Bangladesh.

“The reality of women’s lives in Bangladesh has not been taken into account”, stresses Uddin: “Bangladeshi women generally lack basic economic skills and understanding; they fear financial risk and move in very restricted geographical circles. Hence, they have no actual access to the market.” Uddin’s in depth-interviews with 151 female micro-credit borrowers produced evidence that micro-credits are mainly used for satisfying immediate needs, rather than for establishing sustainable income sources. “Women often get further mired in debt”, argues Uddin.

“What is more, micro-credits have not helped to abandon Bangladeshi dowry culture and domestic violence”, adds Uddin’s wife Laila Ashrafun. The Associate Professor in Sociology discusses in her doctorate why and how women become victims of violence in the socio-economic setting of Bangladesh. Her insights are based on in-depth interviews with women of slum communities.

“The deep-rooted patriarchal structures only measure a woman by how much dowry she brings into a marriage. Once married, Bangladeshi women often find themselves in a very vulnerable position as their nearest family members perpetrate violence against them”, describes Ashrafun.

The researcher emphasises that domestic violence has many faces; physical, verbal, psychological, or economical. “Many women cope with domestic violence for years, because if they report the abuse or even divorce their husbands, they face social stigma and poverty.” The biggest problem Ashrafun sees is that male violence against women is widely accepted by Bangladeshi society as a normal practise. For instance, a victim of home violence is usually advised by authorities and counsellors to adjust to her marital situation.

Thus, Ashrafun appeals to the idea that domestic violence against Bangladeshi women is not just a gender issue, or a problem of private homes. “Most of all, it is a human rights issue that requires international attention.”

Mohammad Jasmin Uddin: "Microcredit, Gender and Neoliberal Development in Bangladesh" Wed 20.2.2013 »»

Laila Ashrafun: "Seeking A Way Out of the Cage - Underprivileged Women and Domestic Violence in Bangladesh" Fri 15.3.2013 »»

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Ari Aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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