Grameen Bank has long been a leader not only in microfinance and poverty-reduction efforts, but also in its work empowering poor, rural women of Bangladesh. It has been a much-emulated model for the rest of the world. Women make up 97 percent of Grameen Bank’s borrowers, own more than 95 percent of the equity in the bank, and are represented by 9 of the 13 seats on the Board of Directors. These women owners shared in the Nobel Peace Prize given to Grameen Bank and its founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus in 2006.
Today the independence of Grameen Bank and the ownership shares of its women clients are threatened by the actions of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh. Over the past few years Prime Minister Hasina has led efforts by her government to force Professor Yunus out of his position as managing director of the Bank. The government has now appointed a commission to look into the operations of Grameen Bank and make recommendations as to its future leadership. This commission is widely seen as a way for the government to take control of the Grameen Bank from its women borrower-owners. Any additional interference by the government in the authority of Grameen’s Board of Directors would be an enormous setback to the human and legal rights of these women. Such action would send a very dangerous signal about threats to the autonomy of all of civil society institutions in Bangladesh.
With less than two months until the Bangladesh government-appointed commission releases its recommendations for the future of the Grameen Bank, it is essential we use every tool at our disposal to urge Prime Minister Hasina to protect the independence of the Bank and its borrowers. Sign this petition and let your voice be heard.
The video featured above is a trailer for the movie Bonsai People by Holly Mosher, the first film that looks at the work of Muhammad Yunus from microcredit through to social business.