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New York Times Profiles Lives of Women Using Microloans

August 19, 2009

Today, the New York Times published a lengthy story about the experiences of women in Third World countries who have improved their quality of life using micro-loaning processes. Micro-loans are small amounts of money granted to impoverished women which allow them to create income for themselves, and in some cases create jobs for others in their community.

This article is an adaptation of material from Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof’s new book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which will be of interest to many readers. One tale from the book that amazed me was that of Saima Muhammed, a Pakistani woman who found was trapped in an abusive relationship and heavily indebted. She was able to use a $65 dollar loan to create a embroidery weaving business. This has now grown into a thirty employee endeavor, and Muhammed has been able to upgrade her house and purchase luxuries.

For additional information on Micro-lending and an example of one of the NGO’s involved in the micro-loan industry, see The Microcredit Summit Campaign.

  1. August 20, 2009 1:42 pm

    That’s a very good Times article. It gets into a lot of issues other than microloans. And it’s good to see that the authors acknowledge that the media in general and they in particular didn’t pay any attention to “women’s issues” for a long time: “Traditionally, the status of women was seen as a “soft” issue — worthy but marginal. We initially reflected that view ourselves in our work as journalists. We preferred to focus instead on the “serious” international issues, like trade disputes or arms proliferation.”

    However, my recollection from reading articles about the Nobel Peace Prize for Mohammed Younus is that there are many people who think that microloans, while helping some individual women, are not as effective as other types of programs

  2. September 19, 2009 5:50 am


    I was able to read most of an advance copy of this book before Bill Drayton (founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public) snatched it away and ran off with it on his annual 2-week hiking trip to the mountains.

    I think this has to be the most important book – not just for women’s rights globally but for human rights – published in my memory. Kristof and WuDunn weave together a most compelling story of how culture and customs historically suppress women. They tackle many tough, taboo topics – for example honor killing. But more importantly, they champion the stories of heroic women worldwide wholly committed to changing the many evils of the status quo.

    What is more, they posit a kind of general framework theory that the really important advances in human rights that are going to be made in the near future are going to be brought about by these entrepreneurial pioneering women. In essence, that the backbone of the human rights movement and of real change across all societies is going to be a direct function of brave women who give themselves permission to say “NO” to thousands of years of (to most Westerners) unimaginable oppressive cultural customs and who take it upon themselves to lead to a new way. Once you have read the book, it is very hard, if not impossible, to disagree with Kristof and WuDunn’s general theme. To wit, the brave women of Iran who took to the streets to protest the results of the recent election.

    Among many other “super” women, HALF THE SKY spotlights the following inspirational Ashoka Fellows:

    • Sunitha Krishnan (India), founder of Prajwala, a citizen sector organization in Hyderabad, India, fighting forced prostitution and sex trafficking, rescuing women and children from sexual exploitation, incestual rape, sexual torture, and abuse in prostitution. Her organization helps former prostitutes learn vocational skills so they can move into new careers. “Prajwala” means “an eternal flame”.

    • Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, a citizen sector organization providing teacher training to Afghan women, educating and fostering education for girls and boys, and providing health education to women and children. Her organization also runs fixed and mobile health clinics that provide family planning services. Sakena holds the distinction of having been Ashoka’s first Afghan Fellow. Educating women and girls was banned under the Taliban and is controversial under Islamic law.

    • Roshaneh Zafar (Pakistan), founder of Pakistani microfinance lender, Kashf. A former World Bank employee, she was inspired after a chance meeting with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. “Kashf” means “miracle” and Kashf is indeed fostering a miracle by leveraging microfinance to women to transform the role of women in Pakistani society and bringing about a poverty-free world. To date, Kashf supports 305,038 families in Pakistan, has disbursed $202 million, and has 52 branches nationwide.

    I am not alone in my enthusiasm for this book! Last Tuesday, September 15, 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”) hosted a panel discussion and booksigning with Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN Headquarters. All 550 seats in the Trusteeship Council Chamber were filled. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered opening remarks. Special recognition goes to Simone Monasebian and Anna Rosario Kennedy of the UNODC for putting together this behemoth of an event.

    Five out of five stars. An absolute must read for anyone who cares about women’s rights or human rights. A genuine eye popper that moves so fast, tackles so much that has hitherto been taboo and unmovable, and interweaves the unbelievably positive stories of the very heroic women already leading and creating change in a tapestry that is glimpse of a brave and very different, humanitarian new world.

    Once you pick this book up, you will not be able to put it down. And once you have read it, you will be moved to help bring about tomorrow. Absolute proof that the glass (or the sky) is half full. We just have to give ourselves permission to make change. Or as Gandhi said, “we must be the change we wish to see.”


    -Tom Boone, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public


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