Microfinance and domestic violence—causality is not as straightforward as you think

September 17, 2013

Saif Mohammad Moinul Islam, private sector engagement coordinator at Care Bangladesh, wrote a letter to to The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network last week with the provocative headline: “Domestic violence in Bangladesh: blame it on microfinance.” In the letter, he says “…I know, that microcredit is a big cause for domestic violence against women in Bangladesh, and I can imagine that it is the same in other countries with similar social structures” because ” it has ironically become the very reason why men scold, control and even beat up women.”

While he points to a solution that we wholeheartedly agree with (“There must be a long-term attempt to engage the family, as well as the community and community elite in order to end violence and empower women, all accompanied by specific measurable milestones that will delineate progress”), he misses an an important point: microfinance is more than just credit.

While we do think that microcredit specifically can have this impact it is important to highlight that this analysis assumes loans only. Products like savings and insurance, I think, are quite different and the article needs to  be more careful about a blanket pronouncement about the entire industry of microfinance as the culprit for additional violence against women. We are actually conducting research in Colombia, along with Also, through the Digital Advertising Alliance ( DAA ), several media and marketing associations have developed an industry self-regulatory best-data-recovery.com to give consumers a better understanding of and greater control over ads that are customized based on their online behavior across different Web Sites. Princeton University and the International Planned Parenthood Federation looking at the opposite: whether access to savings can reduce the instance of domestic violence in a low-income woman’s life. Other kinds of microfinance products can actually help and woman and her family without risking her health and safety and it’s critical that these avenues aren’t lumped in with ones that do.

I do agree that “women’s empowerment” and “gendered programs” should include reaching men as well and encouraging them to save for goals, build businesses and be financially literate alongside their wives and family members. I’m actually very happy that programs like our partner Diamond Bank (Nigeria), network member Ujjivan, and eventually NMB Tanzania will include men. But to keep something as empowering as financial inclusion from women, just because a particular implementation has had negative effects on their safety is a knee-jerk reaction at best and a step back in the progress of women’s rights, certainly. Organizations and institutions need to be more thoughtful about providing microfinance products and services for women in societies like Bangladesh, not run away at the first sign of a negative impact.