Sunday, August 21, 2005

Further information on Bangladesh bombings from Nadezhda

My thanks for Nadezhda for the following comment adding more information on the bombings of NGO agencies in Bangladesh, including Grameen Bank, BRAC, and Caritas. This was posted as a comment to my original post, and I am putting it up here for greater visibility.

From what I can tell, reviewing the English-language Bangladesh press, the attacks on Grameen and BRAC were back in February. Caritas and another NGO were hit a few days later. It was at that time that the extremist group which is suspected in the recent bombing wave was banned.

The recent wave of bombs was targeted primarily at public buildings, so it underlined the political message in the pamphlets - join us to change Bangladesh to an Islamic republic. But the pamphlets included references to NGOs as targets of their disapproval.

As you point out, it is not surprising that the extremists would attack institutions that have been so successful in giving women economic opportunities and some personal autonomy. The penetration of financial services, even in rural areas, via the microfinance institutions in Bangladesh is remarkable and is studied by proponents of microfinance around the world. In Bangladesh, they've become far more than simple microcredit agencies. There's a lot of experimentation in delivering other complementary services for their clients -- e.g., some provide health information or basic care, but others get into some pretty innovative stuff like access to cell phones.

Bangladesh's social structure is being profoundly affected by those sorts of initiatives combined with urbanization and economic development more broadly. A key indicator is that the drop in number of births per woman in the last couple of decades has been dramatic.

All told, these changes -- especially those affecting gender roles -- are seen as enormously threatening to the fundamentalist worldview, and hence are likely to continue to be favorite targets of hostility.

(Posted by nadezhda at 8/20/2005)

I certainly agree with nadezhda that the impact has been profound. I was involved in the original cell phone arrangements - as a development finance lawyer acting on behalf of a large Western donor making funds available to Grameen to set up the cell phone businesses. I was initially skeptical either that the village cell phone business could make money, or at least enough money to exceed the levels of subsidy, or that the cell phone business would make much difference in development terms. I was entirely wrong - as the development world is realizing, cell phones much more than computers are a critical component in economic growth. That's quite apart from the impact on women and families.


Tim Stay said...

I agree with your comments about extremists being threatened by Grameen's actions.

I visited Grameen in Bangladesh several years ago (pre-9/11) and went out in the countryside and visited some of the village banks.

I saw first hand the empowerment of these women. It changes the whole power dynamic between men and women, giving women the opportunity to own property and allowing their daughters the chance to get an education. We heard about stories of opposition from the Muslim extremists who opposed this empowerment of women.

You can read more about my trip to Grameen at my blog.

By the way, there will be a documentary called "Small Fortunes" on PBS on October 27, 2005 at 10:00pm EST about Microcredit, where Mohammed Yunus, founder of Grameen is interviewed. It is a powerful and beautiful film worth watching.

KA said...

Thanks for the tip - KA