Empowering Turk women

ANKARA (AFP) – Reducing poverty among women is crucial to fighting religious fundamentalism, the internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi pioneer of micro-financing for the poor, Muhammad Yunus, said here yesterday. Yunus is the founder and manager of Grameen (Village) Bank, which has provided tiny loans to 5.6 million impoverished people, 96 percent of them women, for self-employment in rural Bangladesh. «One relationship we see at Grameen Bank very directly is that the more women get empowered, fundamentalism has lesser and lesser a chance,» Yunus told a press conference during a visit to Ankara. The US-educated economist, who developed the microcredit concept and then established Grameen Bank in 1983, explained that borrowers were not only advised about how to start a small business, but encouraged to vote to make their voices heard by politicians. As a result of more women voting, he said, fundamentalist political forces suffered significant losses in the 1996 parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. Yunus stressed that the micro-financing system for the poorest of the poor was also an effective tool in fighting terrorism. «The basic root of terrorism is poverty, ignorance and a lack of education. Terrorism basically comes from the sense of injustice,» he said. «Microcredit brings hope that I can build my own life… that I can walk out of the darkness. «To the extent that economic injustice is removed, the breeding ground for terrorism is reduced,» he said. Since Yunus’s micro-financing concept was introduced in Turkey’s poorest region, the mainly Kurdish southeast, in 2003, some 3,200 women have been granted loans of 500 to 3,000 New Turkish Lira ($340-2,030, 260-1,565 euros) so far. One of Yunus’s best-known initiatives is the «telephone ladies» project, under which women borrowers buy a mobile phone and then sell telephone services in villages where, in most cases, this service never existed before. A 1998 World Bank study said 5 percent of Grameen Bank borrowers move out of poverty each year. Yunus said the money available for micro-financing was still insufficient due to a lack of initiative in creating financial institutions as well as the absence in many countries of legal bases and regulatory bodies for such lending.