Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nobel Peace Prize

This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist, microlending pioneer, and founder of the famous Grameen Bank.

The Nobel Prize committee states:
Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. Economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.
The Grameen Bank primarily lends to women because they have found that women are more likely to sensibly invest the money and pay back the loan -- men are more likely to squander the money and default.

The committee statement makes it sound as if micro-lending is primarily about helping women and integrating them into the work force. This is accurate, but there is even more to the story. The men who live in the same villages as these women, oppose Grameen Bank loans because it reduces their local power and status. In this context, the microloans undermine local communities and social cohesiveness, but is that a bad thing when the community consist of local "tyrannies" where a group of men lord it over women?

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