ed, self-evident patriarchal state; this study aims at investigating the positive and negative implications microfinance bears on the Saudi female clients. By studying the initiative Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ)1, and examining its underlying principles, rational accomplishments and goals, this study aims to examine its effects on power relations, decision-making and bargaining power in the household. This case study of microfinance in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia aspires to unfold an important and lacking dimension to the current debates surrounding gender and development in developing countries particularly in relation to debates surrounding gender equality2 vs. gender equity3, microfinance, women’s empowerment and debates surrounding the importance of having ’ ‘gender aware’4 policies.
Microfinance institutions vary in terms of their goals, agenda’s and assumptions. There have been continual debates on whether microfinance can be considered as a savior to poverty-stricken women from oppression and gendered inequalities or whether having access to micro-financial resources can empower women economically and socially. ‘Studies generally suggest the poorest seldom benefit from microcredit, while the middle and upper poor benefit the most (Maclsaac, 1997). This doesn’t apply to the case in Saudi Arabia because the BRJ scheme is a charity-based approach that is Shari’aa compliant (offering interest-free loans).
There is a debate between whether microfinance can help promote gender-equality vs. gender equity. (See footnotes 2 & 3 for the difference) In the case of Saudi Arabia, gender equality would be an ideological scenario, given the religious, cultural and traditional framework in which there impoverished women operate. Gender equity is more of an attainable goal in this context. Furthermore, there are heated debates surrounding the issue of microfinance being regarded a tool to facilitate women’s empowerment. A recent study in Bangladesh concluded