Washington, D.C.: On September 18th, the Bangladeshi Parliament passed the “Grameen Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2012” into law despite the boycott by independent lawmaker MP Fazlul Azim. This amendment effectively nationalizes a bank in which the government holds a mere 3% share. With this act, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have ignored the concerns of civil society and the rights of the women who own the other 97% of Grameen Bank. The adoption of this amendment sets the empowerment of women in the country back decades.
The true owners of the bank, however, are not accepting this quietly. Grameen Bank shareholders and borrower-members of the board have been outspoken in their opposition and have promised to wage a movement for as long as they can. Late last week, the government-appointed chairman of the board moved to form the 5-member selection committee amid continued protest by the majority of the board.
Earlier this summer, nine of Grameen’s thirteen directors—women elected by the 8.4 million Grameen members—spoke out against the government’s egregious tactics. With sorrow in her voice, board director Momela Begum said, “I have had to endure so much suffering. I used to work in other people’s houses to feed myself. I have had to eat rice with water and chili only. Now I am spending my days with so much happiness after entering Grameen Bank… We will not give this bank to the government.”
Board director Shondory Begum illustrated in stark terms what is at stake for Grameen members. “The government used to give wheat as relief. We had to sit in the street in a long queue. Some could have it while others would not get the wheat. They would go home crying. Now after going through suffering so much to look after our husbands and our children, after enduring so much pain, now that we are about to achieve so much, we will not let others take away our bank from us.”
One quarter of the entire Bangladeshi population are finding a pathway out of poverty thanks in part to this pioneering bank and its related social businesses. According to an article in the April 2012 edition of South Asian Journal of Evaluation in Practice, between 1990 and 2006, 573,563 families—or approximately 2.9 million individuals—rose out of extreme poverty while members of Grameen Bank.
To continue to have the power to transform the lives of the poorest women and their families in Bangladesh, it is critical that Grameen Bank remain independent.Transparency International has ranked Bangladesh 120 of 182 countries on their Corruption Perceptions Index and Akbar Ali Khan, former Finance Advisor to the Caretaker Government, has charged that state-owned banks are notorious for corruption and graft — an accusation that has been proven true recently with the massive Sonali Bank Hall-Mark scandal. In order for Grameen to continue to inspire trust in its members and the global community, the selection process for the next Managing Director must be transparent and validated by the borrower-directors.
This is indeed a test for all of civil society in Bangladesh and around the world.
Larry Reed, Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, which is sponsoring a still-active petition on Change.org, calls for people across the globe to stand with the women of Grameen Bank:
“Grameen Bank is an inspiration to Bangladesh and the rest of the world. A government takeover is a massive injustice to the women who, through their hard work, investments, and ownership of this bank, have empowered themselves and transformed the lives of their families. Holding Grameen Bank back is to hold the microfinance sector back not only in Bangladesh but in the entire world. We urge Prime Minister Hasina to let the true owners of Grameen decide who their next Managing Director will be. We also call on all of those who support microfinance around the world to speak up on behalf of these women.”
For further information:
Microcredit Summit Campaign
Sabina Rogers +1.202.637.9600
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