Self Help Groups: An Anecdote Of Women Empowerment in India

shg Image Source: The Hindu Business Line

 

In a country of 121 crore, where 83.3 crores live in rural areas while 37.7 crores stay in urban areas, interestingly, about 22% of the population is considered to be below poverty line. The ongoing urbanization has indeed contributed to more opportunities and simultaneously some sectors like agriculture suffered. But the question remains same, how do we make India more self-sustainable?

During my recent experiences, while working with Chaitanya in tribal/rural areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, I was able to drill deep in such statistics, government schemes and their impact. Our special focus is on educating women and especially promoting savings as a habit. One such scheme is micro-finance which has been debated enough by economists and banks but it indeed has shown its strong positives.

Muhammad Yunus (Winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 2006) and writer of Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Batter Against World Poverty said:

“When a destitute mother starts earning an income, her dreams of success invariably center around her children. A woman’s second priority is the household. She wants to buy utensils, build a stronger roof, or find a bed for herself and her family. A man has an entirely different set of priorities. When a destitute father earns extra income, he focuses more attention on himself. Thus money entering a household through a woman brings more benefits to the family as a whole.”

A Self Help Group (SHG) is a social group of men or women in similar economic condition. These members make small saving contributions over a duration until they reach enough capital in the group to start their lending process. These funds can then be utilized to lent back to the members or the anyone else. In India, many SHGs are linked to the banking institutions for the delivery of micro-credit.

Self Help Groups are famous in India and South East Asian countries and the concept came into existence in Bangladesh by Dr. Yunus (quoted above) for the poorest of the poor who were ignored and shunned by regular banks for lending tiny sums.

In India, SHGs first emerged in MYRADA (Andhra Pradesh) in 1985. Here is a quick timeline of the journey of SHGs in India:

  • 1987  – NABARD provided MYRADA with a grant of 1 million Indian rupees enable it to invest resources in identifying affinity groups, building their capacity and match their savings after a period of 3-6 months.
  • 1990 – RBI accepted the SHG strategy as an alternative credit model.
  • 1992 – NABARD issued guidelines to provide the framework  for a strategy that would allow banks to lend directly to SHGs.
  • 1992 – SHG-Bank Linkage Programme was launched
  • The Tamil Nadu Women’s Empowerment Project, an IFAD-supported project implemented through the Tamil Nadu Women’s Development Corporation, was the first project in the country, in about 1990,  to incorporate the SHG concept into a state-sponsored program and since then Self Help Groups have been associated with women.

Why is that so?

Let’s look at the poverty circle. Women have always been given the secondary status – be it at home or society. Women still  remain poorest of the poor, can never break free from this cycle. A poor woman is vulnerable, insecure and lacks knowledge.

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Why are women not empowered? They lack 4 basic things:

  • Knowledge
  • Finance
  • Power
  • Opportunity

SHGs fulfill the 4 above criteria, and not only make them financially sustainable but also gives them a sense of empowerment.

Sharing one more inference from Dr. Yunus’s book – Women experience hunger & poverty in much more intense ways than men. If one of the family members have to starve it is an unwritten law that has to be the mother. A poor woman in our society is totally insecure – insecure at her husband’s house, in-laws, and parent’s house. She has nothing to call her own. She cannot read and write and generally she has never been allowed out of her house to earn money even if she wanted to. So When she is given even the smallest opportunity she struggles extra hard to get out of poverty to build up her security – Financial Security.

Let me share a real story with you.

She worked as a sweeper and used to clean the area around a bank. She used to save a very small amount (INR 10) in the same branch every day continuously for 11 years. Her persistent approach ensured that she has savings for the bad rainy moments and today she has her own house in Pune with 11 Lacs of savings. 

This is the story of Anuradha Tai. This is the story we want to be of million other empowered women in rural India.

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