Special credit institutions in Bangladesh have dramatically increased the credit available to poor rural women since the mid-1980s. Though this is intended to contribute to women’s empowerment, few evaluations of loan use investigate whether women actually control this credit. Most often, women’s continued high demand for loans and their manifestly high propensity to repay is taken as a proxy indicator for control and empowerment.
This paper challenges this assumption by exploring variations in the degree to which women borrowers control their loans directly; reporting on recent research which finds a significant proportion of women’s loans to be controlled by male relatives. The paper finds that a preoccupation with ‘credit performance’ – measured primarily in terms of high repayment rates – affects the incentives of fieldworkers dispensing and recovering credit, in ways which may outweigh concerns to ensure that women develop meaningful control over their investment activities.