Why should masculinity be considered in the theory and practice of micro-credit initiatives? Sharecropper women in Bangladesh have expressed the significance of their subordination within the multiple male-ordered spheres of extended family and village community.
This article explicitly questions the assumption that women can increase agency as they earn more money, without specific strategies for dealing with gendered power hierarchies. The ethnographic research conducted with men and women in rural Bangladesh between 1999 - 2001 interrogates the dominant binary framework which excludes male relatives of Grameen Bank microcredit clients, arguing that this exacerbates gender-based violence and prevents joint decision-making within the home.
The research thus explores the nuances of different masculinities in Bangladesh in order to make recommendations on how a spectrum of masculinities can be recognised in micro-credit initiatives to empower low-income women and men. Expressions varied between: ‘high minded men’ expressed gender-equitable attitudes and relationships supporting women’s empowerment from a rights perspective; ‘Mixed men’ that showed support to women relatives, but within set boundaries that they could control; and men who showed violent responses to women’s achievements related to microcredit programmes.
The recommendations suggest empowering ‘high minded men’ as change agents to reach other men in the community and to change community norms.