Sunday, 6 March 2011

Book Review: Understanding the interpersonal dimension of gender and poverty

 There are many minds in the international development field that will switch off at the sight of the word gender in the title of this book. They may say they are concerned with more important, big-picture ideas about aid, governance, trade policy, etc. This is a problem, because those very same big ideas that dominate the field keep breaking down at the seams because their thinkers overlook exactly the kinds of nuance and detailed policy thinking that fill this book. So let me assure such thinkers that this is not a feminist text, nor does it fetishise the issue of gender. Rather it is about the interpersonal dimension of development—how women and men relate with each other, how children relate to adults, the old to the young, employers to workers, households to agencies. It is about how these relationships shape individuals’ struggles with poverty, and how these struggles aggregate to become wider narratives of poverty across whole societies.

Please read the entirety of this review which deconstructs the Protestant Work Ethic thus:

In one scheme in Dar es Salaam, analysed by Fauzia Mohamed, Lecturer in Sociology in the Open University of Tanzania, the credit agency seems eager to promote a Protestant work ethic, which presumably they find lacking in Tanzanian society. One official states that:
“We try to enlighten our clients that those who are serious in their businesses are the ones who escape the vicious cycle of poverty, since the harder they work, the faster they make their repayments. This gives them more money to invest in their businesses causing their businesses to expand faster, giving these women more money which will eventually reduce their poverty.”
Firstly, the statement shows that the agency prioritises recovering its funds ahead of real poverty alleviation, since women are taught that repaying the agency is a precondition for escaping poverty, a strange and artificial claim. Secondly, for Mohamed, it showed no understanding of Tanzanian women’s lives.
In the absence of other available criteria, the agency assessed individuals’ capacity to borrow based on their apparent industriousness and devotion to income-earning activities. But this directs loans only at those women who have the luxury of time and resources to devote themselves to income-earning, and writes off the neediest women where they don’t demonstrate the appropriate work ethic.
But the neediest Tanzanian women are not lazy, merely sensible. They are already industriously juggling children, domestic chores, and favours for neighbours. They may neglect repayments not out of incapacity but out of rational preference to maintain good relations with their community instead of credit agencies. Women may default to help their neighbours, causing agencies to refuse them further funds, but these women know that their neighbours are more likely to be of real assistance than the agencies in times of crisis, and will happily divert their repayments to help each other.

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