The Bangladeshi government’s attempted takeover of the Grameen Bank, which, along with its founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, is a threat to the well-being of 8.3 million poor women.
Having studied at the Grameen Bank in 1992, I was dazzled by what small loans and support can do to change the lives of some of the poorest people on Earth. This was done through entrepreneurship, not a handout. The miracle of the bank isn’t just the loan; it’s the system of delivery and support.
Five to 10 women form a group, and each one presents a business proposal. Her peers help her refine the idea so that the money borrowed can generate a return that will enable her to repay the loan, reinvest in and expand her business and have money left to help support her family. I saw a woman who had started with a few chickens, parlay that into tools that her son could use to fix rickshaws, then buy a milk cow and eventually join with 34 other women to become a partner in a rice paddy.
With this organization and some money, the women brought primary healthcare and tutors to the village for their children. Poor women becoming landowners! Is this a threat to the ruling factions? You bet.
After Yunus’ forced resignation as managing director of Grameen Bank, the board of directors followed existing procedures to select a new managing director.
Instead of allowing this process to move forward, the government intervened and transferred authority to the government-appointed chair of the board. In doing so, the government has violated the human and legal rights of the millions of women borrowers who are represented by nine of the 12 seats on the board of directors and who own 97 percent of Grameen shares.
In 2010, the U.S. Congress recognized Yunus’ invaluable contributions to reducing poverty and empowering the rural women of Bangladesh by awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award it bestows. We urge House Speaker John Boehner to schedule the ceremony to award Yunus the medal.
The United States has been a long-time supporter of Bangladesh and its people, giving more than $200 million in foreign assistance in 2012 alone. The expropriation of the Grameen Bank by the Bangladeshi government and the ongoing intimidation of its founder and legal board place all of Bangladeshi civil society at risk and undermine the ability to effectively deliver anti-poverty efforts.
Ellen Kempler, Miami