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Empowerment of Women through Self Help Groups - Agents for Change
Empowerment means individuals acquiring the power to think and act freely, exercise choice and to fulfil their potential as full and equal members of the society. The process of women empowerment begins when women’s awareness of their situation, social reality and rights is raised. Increased awareness must be accompanied by more education, greater knowledge and useful skills and actions. When women organise for action, they gain further knowledge and their awareness is raised to a new level. This increased awareness leads to a new action, and the whole process is repeated. Such a continuous process can lead to higher levels of empowerment.

In the words of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the following factors are included in the definition of women empowerment:

  • Acquiring knowledge and understanding of gender relations and the ways in which these relations may be changed.
  • Developing a sense of self-worth, a belief in one’s ability to secure desired changes and the right to control one’s life.
  • Gaining the ability to generate choices and exercise bargaining power.
  • Developing the ability to organise and influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order.

The greater change that may follow can change the very belief or assumption of what constitutes power.

With the clarity of the concept of empowerment, discussion can be ignited with the women in the community on the various indicators of empowerment and depending on their experiences in daily life, to what level and in what matters they are empowered. What activities do they do with their own wish and in what matters are they empowered to make decision? Points should be made in comparison to their male counterparts with respect to the roles played by them and the decision making power lying with them. This will help them to gain clarity of the relationship between awareness or consciousness and action.

Action brings about higher levels of consciousness, and greater consciousness in turn leads to more effective action. Collective action through organising for women’s empowerment such as through Self-Help Groups introduces an element of democratic decision making, leading to the development of leadership, reducing risk and external threat and enabling women to overcome the oppression of patriarchy and to realise their own true potential.

 In unity - a powerful voice

INDCARE Trust meets regularly with urban and rural women to initiate the following exercise:

  •  Why is it important to form a group and live in an organised manner?
  • What are the benefits of organising ?
  • How can they get access to various resources and programmes initiated by the government, while being in a group?
  • How can the organisation of women give them a voice that allows them participation and redressal in forums?
  • Being thus prompted and encouraged, women can air their views in a healthy atmosphere and shoulder the responsibility for natural resource management with their male counterparts, along with their own empowerment and development.

Need For Self Help Group

  •  Among the poor, the poor women are the most disadvantaged - they are characterized by lack of education and access to resources, both of which are required to help them work their way out of poverty and for upward economic and social mobility.
  •  The problem is more acute for women in countries like India, despite the fact that women’s labour makes a critical contribution to the economy - this is due to low social status and lack of access to key resources.
  • Women tend to save more reliably and regularly than men. For whatever reasons, they tend to save more rather than spending money on short-term, non-productive items like liquor. This makes them better customers for saving products.
  •  Evidence shows that groups of women are better customers than men - they are better managers of resources - benefits of loans are spread wider in the household if loans are routed through women - mixed groups are often inappropriate in the Indian society.
  •  Women are more concerned than men about the future of their children. Saving is one way of building security.

 Once the women are convinced about the above factors, it becomes easier to focus  on the need of the Self-Help Group. One of the main needs can be micro-credit for the initiation or the growth of economic activities by the villagers.

 Many of the government schemes function with organising of women in Self-Help Groups, which proves to be an effective strategy catering to the needs and gender reality of women. Also, as these SHGs are homogeneous bodies of the stakeholders with common interests, implementation of programmes for the development of beneficiaries becomes realistic with their own participation.

Formation of Self-Help Group -from SHG to Federation:

Formation: The whole idea is the formation empowerment of women Self-Help Groups so that they are self-sustaining. These Self-Help Groups are formed keeping in mind similar backgrounds either in terms of their caste, which plays a very important role in the rural setting, or the place of residence (as per the wish of the women). The size of the group should not exceed 20 members to allow proper management.

LinkagesAlong with the savings and the responsibilities of the office bearers it becomes imperative to chalk out the other roles of the SHGs, like loans, repayment etc, depending on the need of the community. The key for stabilising the SHG operations is to ensure that loans are taken and repaid on time along with the regular savings, leading to interest in increasing the savings amount and enhancing the funds in the group for further usage.

Market Avenues: While reaching this stage, the SHG women members have gained self-confidence and have the ability to start micro-enterprises for individual or group income generating activities. To realise this, the facilitator should also explore the various market avenues. This should be followed by estimation of the status and condition of the existing skills in the human resources to adapt to the particular economic activity. Proper cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to verify the economic viability of the enterprise.

Grouping SHGs into ClustersOnce the SHGs have matured in carrying out their thrift and credit activities along with strong bank linkages, they can be further networked into clusters based on geographical proximity. Around 10 to 20 SHGs can be clustered together with the representation of the group by one to two members from each group.

Grouping Clusters into an SHG FederationLooking at the activities of the cluster committees for some time - their active and independent monitoring and management of SHGs - a federation of the SHGs can be formed to supervise and oversee the networking operations of these grassroot local organisations. 

Each cluster would nominate their members to constitute a body of federation of SHGs. The procedure of selection would be election of a president, secretary and treasurer as office bearers. This body would work as an apex body for decision making depending on the strength of the individuals, and in turn provides them the platform to raise their collective voices at a higher level of decision making. At this stage, there will be complete withdrawal of the agency involved in planning with the SHG's.

INDCARE's current Intervention focus:

  • Bundelkhand Region
  • the State of Uttar Pradesh
  • the State of Madhya Pradesh
  • the State of Uttarakhand
  • Delhi (Ajmeri Gate )
  • Delhi (Nabi Karim)
  • North West Delhi (Hastsaal)
  • North Delhi (Bawana, Mongolpuri, Nangloi,Shakurpur)
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