Beyond the economics of gender inequalities in microfinance: Comparing problem representations in India and Australia

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Archanna Voola

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

The central goal of the thesis is to critically scrutinise representations of gender inequalities, as they emerge in the practices of microfinance consumption in India and Australia. By examining longstanding gendered microfinance programs in India, the study seeks to draw out lessons to inform the emerging sector in Australia. Extant literature predominantly focuses on the economic aspects of gender inequalities in microfinance. Employing Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach, the thesis opens up the informational space to include economic as well as non-economic aspects of inequalities. The methodology developed in this study provides an alternative to conventional approaches examining the relationship between microfinance and gender inequalities. That is, rather than begin with an apriori notion of what gender inequality is, and how microfinance addresses or does not address it, this study begins with the inquiry of what gender inequalities are (or are represented to be) through the narratives of microfinance program consumers.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with microfinance program consumers in India and Australia. The episteme of the thesis cast the interview narratives as a particular representation of reality, which were then scrutinised to draw out the associations between gender inequalities and microfinance in both contexts. Therefore the study compared the problem representations, that is, how gender inequalities were problematised in the policy and practice of microfinance in two contexts. Despite differences in historical trajectories, socio-cultural norms and geo-political configurations between the countries, the study reveals certain commonalities in the normative structuring of gender inequalities. For example, the association between gender inequalities and microfinance were problematised in relation to i) Accessing finance ii) Accessing market work and business opportunities iii) Expanding formal and informal support networks iv) Accessing educational experiences v) Maintaining the care economy and vi) Securing personal safety. The thesis concludes with the suggestion that microfinance policy and practice can promote gender equality by intentionally seeking out economic and beyond economic outcomes. This study has opened up a new space to account for gender concerns which celebrates achievements without glossing over injustices and omissions.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Susan Goodwin