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kudumbashree

 

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women

― Maya Angelou

 Over the years several strategies have been used to empower women .One of them relies on community groups whose members   can be trained and equipped to use their collective strength and wisdom to tackle their problems. 

In India the most popular model for empowering village women through financial access and provision of other services is the Self Help Group mechanism. It is in practice for more than two decades and has   transformed the lives of millions of women, several of whom now occupy important positions in village administration. A typical Indian self help group  consists of 10-20 poor women from similar socio-economic backgrounds who meet once a month to pool savings and discuss issues of mutual importance.   One of the key objectives of self help groups  is to provide financial access to entrepreneurial women through a mechanism in which women cross guarantee each other’s debts.

Intent on providing a better life for her children and surviving as best she could ,Shakila decided to give it a try not out of any temptation, but because she felt she must take the first ladder irrespective of whether she would be able to make it to the next. Her decision transformed her life. In Charurkhati village in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra she has sparked a mini revolution which is rippling across the villages in the district.

Shakila learned to sew with a simple needle and thread – mostly from her mother and grandmother. She also spent many hours watching tailors at work as she passed by their shops. For years, she’s been doing piece work for them and making only a small cut of their profits. But she just took out her first loan of 15,000 rupees from a local credit agency. With it, she purchased two used electric sewing machines and set up shop

Shakila’s new sewing machines have allowed her to double production and she is now making 8-9 cholis – sari blouses – daily. She’s also been able to employ one person to help her and is ready to meet the demands of the high season through December, when it gets colder and sales drop off.  With her next loan, Shakila plans to increase her margins and save time by buying greater quantities of thread, sequins, beads, and other materials from wholesalers rather than from a nearby retail shop.

Women  are hard-wired for bonding — even to those who aren’t very nice to them and they can rewire by new experience .What they need to be sure of  is   whether they have any benefits in any venture for their children.. Together the women create a critical mass and change the perception of what women can do. It is an amoeba model of finance. It’s financial inclusion without financial institutions — and each group has the DNA within itself to self-replicate.

One of the important contributions of self help groups is that the social capital they have generated over time has been very positively leveraged by political parties in nominating women for positions in the Panchayats in India’s new PRI model of grassroots democracy. Earlier the contention was that politically inexperienced and otherwise disadvantaged women would simply be overruled or manipulated by their spouses or other powerful local interests.   This is not the case at all.  They do orientate their public-goods provision more towards the expressed preferences of female voters, namely more water and roads in West Bengal, and more water but fewer roads in Rajasthan. The women have demonstrated that the diffidence of village women need not be written in stone and given a chance they can be equal to any task.

On a walk through the quiet lanes past herds of snoozing water buffalo and carts pulled by teams of oxen, Lalita pointed to the village hand pump she had  got installed. She showed off the new brick lanes, electrical poles and street lights installed on her watch and checked on the progress of a new community hall, being built. I found that the villagers had now put a premium on educating girls. This was in contrast to the trail of unkempt, unwashed children who would be a regular sight earlier.

One is impressed by the visible enthusiasm and dynamism of these women’s collectives working towards a social transformation that is nothing short of a revolution.   They are successfully running savings and credit groups and handling money that runs into 6-7 figures, interacting with bank managers for loans with ease of long practice.  . They are also effectively moving “beyond credit” and are exhibiting the collective capacity and the capability to be equal partners in village development. They are contesting local elections or at the least prevailing upon local candidates to acknowledge their power as citizens. Be it the task of monitoring the performance of the primary health care centre in the village, being an active member of the village education committee, or addressing the issue of clean water and sanitation, women are at the forefront and more often than not the initiators of these activities.

. The sisterhood is so close knit and persuasive and sorority so intense that women have begun to think of themselves in a different way. Beginning in the benign area of health, the women slowly gained confidence and moved on to other social areas. They began asking for change from the bus conductor, Introducing new farming practices, saving enough money to engage banks and acquire simple irrigation equipment like water tanks, agitating for an improved road (and getting it), mapping the village land and rethinking what’s planted to produce year-round yields and income, demanding the presence of the school teacher, negotiating with local officials for providing services to which they were entitled. Like termites they   had furrowed the male-dominated power-grid in villages and   were heading up the whole patriarchal foundation. Where once participation of women in public meetings was an anathema in rural society, it has now become a ritual. These self help groups have become powerful economic locomotives and have enabled women find new confidence, agency, and purpose.

According to Christine Lagarde, the president of International Monetary Fund , India’s GDP would be 27 per cent higher if the country had as many of its women working as men. India has  fewer than one in three women  who are in paid work, giving it one of the lowest rates of participation in the developing world .It has the most to gain by tackling the cultural and practical forces that keep women out of the labour market.

For one thing, women are ambitious, for themselves and for their families. As they lift themselves out of poverty, they carry their families to a better life. Once they get a leg up, women are more likely to spend their earnings on   education for their children. They symbolize a kind of naturally occurring solidarity between the millions of women at the bottom of the world’s pyramid

As with any single strategy, this is not going to lift people out of poverty. But it’s simple, low-cost and resilient – and it can be carried out by small informal organizations and spread virally. And what’s most important is that development is truly in people’s own hands.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com

 

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Cottage industries are backbone of Indian rural economy and if they are given sufficient moral and financial assistance, they can contribute a higher percent to GDP of the country. Most cottage industries can be managed by women. The self – help groups can boost the finance capital for the women to establish and run the firms in their homes with a couple of helpers. Hence such women oriented cottage industries must be encouraged.
    It may not be out of place to mention that the patriarchal leaning UP mew rulers may stop women empowerment and their self employment opportunity may be snatched away from them. The civil society should stand in solidarity and do not let the rulers terminate self- help groups, cottage industry and employment of women in teritiary small and tiny industry