How Microfinance in Urban India Relies on Unpaid and Underpaid Female LaborVIEW EVENT DETAILS
In collaboration with the India Studies Program, Modern and Classical Languages & Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston
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7 p.m. Moderated Discussion
7:45 p.m. Audience Q&A – Questions welcome via YouTube Live
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Commercial microfinance in India is a subprime credit industry that lends to over 35 million working-class women at interest rates of 20 to 26 percent. In the last decade, the industry has seen unprecedented growth while these profit-oriented microfinance institutions (MFIs), supported by financial inclusion policies, have funneled billions of dollars in loans to women borrowers previously considered as uncreditworthy.
However, some fear the microfinance industry is exploiting the working-class women it purports to serve. Is the industry reliant on the unpaid and underpaid labor of these women who provide for their families through debt, while men who work in the MFI industry find secure livelihoods and upward mobility?
Join Asia Society Texas as experts examine the gendered structure of microfinance, particularly in India, and discuss the path forward.
About the Speakers
Smitha Radhakrishnan is Professor of Sociology and Luella LaMer Professor of Women’s Studies at Wellesley College. Her research examines the cultural, financial, and political dimensions of gender and globalization, with particular focus on India, the United States, and South Africa. Her current work uses microfinance as a window into newly dominant anti-poverty practices that merge profit motivations with the social ones, shining a bright light on how gendered labor and class inequalities shape financialization. Starting with clients of for-profit microfinance institutions in India, Radhakrishnan “traces up” the gendered relations that constitute commercial microfinance in India, including loan officers, managers, the wealthy promoters of Indian financial companies, and finally, peer-to-peer lenders on kiva.org who believe in the principle of microfinance, but from a distance. Radhakrishnan’s is author of the book, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a Transnational Class (Duke University Press 2011), and has previously researched the cultural politics of post-apartheid South Africa. In 2016-17, she was an American Council of Learned Societies’ Frederick Burkhardt Fellow, in residence at Boston College. She received her PhD in Sociology from University of California, Berkeley.
Debarati Sen is an Associate Professor and the Undergraduate Program Director of Anthropology at the University of Houston. She is an interdisciplinary cultural anthropologist with expertise in South Asia. Inspired by transnational and postcolonial feminism, she is deeply committed to issues of social justice and structural inequities.
Everyday Sustainability: Gender Justice and Fair Trade Tea in Darjeeling (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017), her first single-authored book, is an outcome of fourteen year engagement with issues of sustainability, fair trade, and gender justice in Eastern India. In 2018, this monograph won two major national-level book awards: The International Studies Association's book award for the Global Development Section and the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize from National Women's Studies Association. In 2019, her book also received an honorable mention for the Michelle Rosaldo Book Prize of the Association for Feminist Anthropology (American Anthropological Organization). Her research was funded with grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, US National Science Foundation DDIG, Princeton University's Office of Population Research, and Columbia University.
At present, she is working on a second book project, titled Subnational Enterprise: Militarization, Masculinity, and Rise of the Right-Wing in India's Eastern Border. This project examines archival material and ethnographic data on the militarized identities of Indian Nepalis (Gorkhas) and their political predicaments. In 2021 co-edited a special issue of the Journal of South Asian Development titled “Women’s Collectives and Social Transformations in South Asia: Negotiations, Navigations and Self-Making.”
Elora Shehabuddin is Professor of Transnational Asian Studies and Core Faculty in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University. She received her A.B. in Social Studies from Harvard University and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. Professor Shehabuddin is the author of Sisters in the Mirror: A History of Muslim Women and the Global Politics of Feminism (University of California Press, 2021), Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh (Columbia University Press, 2008), and Empowering Rural Women: The Impact of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh (Grameen Bank, 1992). She has published articles in Modern Asian Studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Journal of Women's History, Südasien-Chronik [South Asia Chronicle], Journal of Bangladesh Studies, and Asian Survey, as well as chapters in numerous edited volumes. She co-edited a special issue of Feminist Economics on “Gender and Economics in Muslim Communities.”
Professor Shehabuddin has received many fellowships, including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Social Science Research Council, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. She has been selected as a Carnegie Scholar and as a Research Associate in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at the Divinity School at Harvard University. Her doctoral dissertation was awarded the American Political Science Association’s Aaron Wildavsky Dissertation Award for best dissertation in Religion and Politics. Professor Shehabuddin currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies, as an Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (Brill), on the Advisory Committee of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School, and as an elected member of the South Asia Council in the Association for Asian Studies.
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