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An examination of the impact of microcredit programmes at the intersections of gender and caste in North India Sekhon, Sumeet


Microcredit, once hailed as the cure-all panacea for tackling poverty in the developing world, has become the subject of intense debate. Proponents assert that microcredit programmes help poor households to tackle economic shocks and build the entrepreneurial capacity of credit constrained clients, especially impoverished women in the developing world. They also point out that the nearly perfect loan repayment rates indicate the development of a structurally sound lending mechanism. On the other hand, naysayers call attention towards the inability of microcredit programmes to achieve sustainable reductions in poverty, to challenge the social construction of gender roles, and to increase the intra-household bargaining power of women. Moreover, providing credit to women may not lead to an improvement in their status if the other forms of access to markets, such as restricted mobility, gender biases, and time constraints due to their reproductive role, remain unchanged. Through my research, I address this debate by presenting and discussing my research findings from an examination of the impact of microcredit programmes on the status of women, particularly low-caste women, in rural Rajasthan, India. More specifically, I draw upon 46 interviews with women who are members of self-help groups, 21 interviews with corresponding male heads of households, and 6 key informant interviews. Study results show that most respondents viewed microcredit as a mere addition to their repository of credit sources—that is, an additional resource which could be used to meet regular household expenses, and, occasionally, to avert or endure a household crisis. However, there was an increase in the capacity of respondents to use their loans for larger expenses with increasing lengths of time spent in the programme. Furthermore, there were three significant pre-conditions for women to use their loans for productive purposes, as well as to exercise control over their loans: middle or old age, not residing with in-laws, and supportive or absent husbands.

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