Credit Groups, Women’s Political Engagement, and Public Goods Provision

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Pushkar Maitra (Monash University)
19 May 2016 (Thursday)
4:00 - 5:00 pm
IAS2042, 2/F, Lo Ka Chung Building, Lee Shau Kee Campus, HKUST

Key insights

Pushkar Maitra, Professor of Economics at Monash University, discussed his research on the role played by social networks in the effective facilitation of female participation in India’s democratic political processes. Prof Maitra and his colleagues focused on women’s membership in local-level microcredit self-help groups (SHGs), which were thought to promote social network formation yet were not thought to be directly correlated with political behavior or involvement. One of their primary research goals was to uncover whether or not membership in these SGHs affected female participation levels in local institutions of grassroots democracy.

Analyzing individual household, aggregate household, and public goods stock data from India’s 2006 Rural Economic Demographic Survey which included approximately 8,600 households across 242 villages in 17 major Indian states, Prof Maitra concluded that membership in a SHG does indeed have a strong positive impact on women’s attendance at village assemblies, a result which survives various robustness tests. He also finds that SHG membership significantly changed the gender composition of village assemblies in favor of women. This, in turn, resulted in more women-preferred public goods such as water, sanitation, and health services being provided by the village council.

Prof. Maitra and his colleagues also postulate that SHG membership results in increased political party activity, which is expected to promote long-term female engagement in India’s local-level political institutions.

While Prof Maitra’s recent experimental evidence suggests that the economic impact of microcredit and SHGs on the poor have been somewhat ambiguous, the social impact of microcredit should not be overlooked. To fully understand the contribution of microcredit and SHGs, Prof Matira argued, one must adopt a broader view of the benefits of these types of interventions since much of their most consequential impacts appear to be in the social realm of women’s lives, especially in the realm of their involvement in the political process and the more gender- equitable distribution of public resources that results from such involvement. 

Abstract

Pushkar Maitra studies the role played by social networks in facilitating effective political participation by women. Maitra focuses on women's membership in microcredit Self-Help Groups (SHGs), which might affect social network formation, yet, is presumably not directly related to their political behavior, and examine if this affects participation in local institutions of grassroots democracy in rural India. His research shows that membership in a SHG affects women's attendance in village assemblies and the result survives various tests designed to address the threat of endogeneity. Using an IV approach, Maitra also finds that SHG membership significantly changed the gender composition of village assemblies in favor of women. This, in turn, resulted in more women-preferred public goods (such as water, sanitation, health) being provided by the village council. Maitra also finds that SHG membership results in increased activities for political parties suggesting long term political engagement of women. This study suggests that much of the influential impacts of SHGs seem to be in the social realm of women's lives.

About the Speaker

Pushkar Maitra's primary areas of research are Development Economics, Experimental Economics and Applied Econometrics. A large part of his research has tried to quantify the impact of institutions on both individuals and households. His current research focuses on evaluating alternative methods of providing credit to the rural poor, the effects of labour market training programs and the impacts of affirmative action programs. A large part of his current research is experimental in nature and involves rigorous econometric analysis of survey data sets.

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