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Gender, solidarity and the paradox of microfinance: reflections from Bolivia

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Abstract:

Microfinance seeks to create small communities of women borrowers who stand in solidarity with each other, providing the social capital necessary to create an economic safety net and to facilitate economic action among individual borrowers. However, because microfinance concurrently emphasizes the economic rationality of participants, it undermines the very sense of community it strives to create. Utilizing feminist geographic scholarship and drawing from examples of a women-only microfinance NGO in urban Bolivia, this article argues that within the practice of microfinance the reliance on romantic notions of community and the desire for organizational sustainability and efficiency weaken the social networks vital to the operation and sustainability of the practice and create an irreconcilable paradox. A feminist geographic approach to unpacking the practice of microfinance within my case study indicates how microfinance perpetuates systems of power and oppression, but also how a more nuanced understanding of solidarity has the potential to shift the institutional culture of microlending.

Keywords: Bolivia; community; microfinance; neoliberalism; social capital

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2011.535298

Affiliations: Department of Geography and Women's Studies, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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