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Abstract

Evaluations of the effects of microfinance programmes on women's empowerment generate mixed results. While some are supportive of microfinance's ability to induce a process of economic, social and political empowerment, others are more sceptical and even point to a deterioration of women's overall well-being. Against this background, development scholars and practitioners have sought to distil some of the ingredients that might increase the likelihood of empowerment or at least reduce adverse effects. This article formally tests the impact of some of the suggested changes in programme features on one particular dimension of empowerment: decision-making agency. Using household survey data from South India, the author explores the importance of the borrower's gender and the lending technology for intra-household decision-making processes. It is shown that direct bank–borrower credit delivery does not challenge the existing decision-making patterns, regardless of whether men or women receive the credit. These findings change when credit is combined with financial and social group intermediation. Women's group membership seriously shifts overall decision-making patterns from norm-guided behaviour and male decision-making to more joint and female decision-making. Longer-term group membership and more intensive training and group meetings strengthen these patterns.