Saturday, July 14, 2007

Introducing: Hasnera

Anyone who buys into the stereotype of the submissive, oppressed Bangladeshi woman hasn’t met Hasnera, another one of our interviewers. She is outspoken, charismatic, enthusiastically and energetically engaged and engaging. You know that she is interested in what you have to say when she’s listening to you, and she makes you want to talk to her. She is definitively a leader. And she is as excited as we are about starting the research.

During the training we had the opportunity to listen to Hasnera talk about her experience with microcredit, which has apparently been fairly positive for her. When she decided to run for election to her village council (as you might expect, not terribly common for women in Bangladesh), she realized that she didn’t have enough money to stage a successful campaign, which can be relatively pretty capital-intensive. So she joined a microcredit group through a national NGO called ASA so that she could take out a loan of 5,000 taka (roughly $75 USD). With the help of her microcredit loan, Hasnera won the election and held a seat on the village council for two consecutive terms. The other interviewers clearly had a great deal of respect for her strong leadership in the community.

Hasnera was able to successfully repay her microcredit loan; she explained that her husband paid all of the installments (125 taka per week - just under $2 USD – for 46 weeks), as he was very happy about her political success. However, she didn’t have many good things to say about the process of obtaining a loan and the results for other women in her group. She explained that in order to apply for a loan, every woman had to submit a picture of her and her husband together, meaning that women who are divorced, widowed, or never married are not allowed to take loans. She also described an extensive series of added expenses (in addition to the interest on the loan, already around 15%) which borrowers are required to pay to the NGO in order to be eligible for the loan. These include mandatory insurance on her loan in case of default, as well as various documents and passbooks for ASA to keep track of her repayments. There is also a mandatory savings condition as well, which requires that every borrower makes a weekly deposit into a savings account run by the NGO, somewhere between 10 – 40 taka per week. The interviewers agreed that most people see this savings requirement as a sort of additional interest that they were required to pay the NGO, as opposed to a supply of money they had saved and could use at some later point – many people expected never to see their savings again.

Hasnera demonstrated her brilliant skills as an interviewer during a practice interview with another woman who was visiting the Nijera Kori training facility. Unexpectedly, she met another woman who had run for local office and funded her election through a microcredit loan (a fairly large coincidence, given the overall representation of women in Bangladeshi politics). After winning one election (for which she borrowed 20,000 taka – roughly $285 USD – which she was able to successfully repay) she ran for a second term for which, due to a much tighter race, she was compelled to take a microcredit loan of 75,000 taka (over $1,000 USD). When the results arrived, the woman was shocked to find out that she had not been elected for a second term, and found herself with a very large debt which she had no way of repaying. Unlike Hasnera, this woman’s husband could not help her repay her loans (due to a severe mental disability which she didn’t find out about until after their wedding, as it was an arranged marriage).

It is a widely held perception of microcredit that micro-loans are given only to entrepreneurs to start small businesses, thereby generating productive assets which the entrepreneur will use to make money to repay their loan. In Bangladesh, this is typically not the case, as loans are used for consumption purposes, such as food, shelter, medical expenses, and other non-productive assets. The stories of these women are interesting examples of the results of microcredit loans which are taken for expenses which will not produce an income to repay themselves.

We look forward to hearing many more stories from Hasnera as the research progresses.

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