Monday, 27 January 2014

Collective Voice and Collective Action through Women Self Help Groups

A silent movement for community driven development is shaping up in many villages of Uttar Pradesh with hundreds of women organised in Self Help Groups (SHGs). A team of seven young researchers from RGICS visited two such villages, namely Sarai Damu and Nebi in Rae Bareilly, to understand the modus operandi of the SHGs organised under Rajiv Gandhi Mahilla Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP)

In contrast to many villages in India that tell sad story of poverty, poor sanitation, unclean environment, dysfunctional hand-pumps, helplessness and vulnerable women, what we saw in the two villages of Rae Bareli was remarkably different. Sarai Damu and Nebi are clean villages with basic amenities and strong women who take decision for the family and village.

Key to this positive story is the role of women SHGs in the two villages, implemented by RGMVP. RGMVP is a rights-based organisation which organises poor rural women into community organisations in the form of SHGs, each having ten to twenty women. The program considers “women as the central agents of change”. In the two villages, a three-tier structure is in force, comprising of the SHGs (consisting of 10–20 poor women), Village Organisations (VOs) and Block Organisations (BOs).

Jamvati, an SHG member narrated her initial struggle to join the Self Help Group. Her husband opposed to the idea, because of which she had to borrow money from her friend to become an SHG member. With time, loans from the bank and benefits started to flow in. Now her family insists her on attending village meetings regularly. In her own words: “Pehle jab SHG se judne ki baat ki to pati ne paise dene se mana kar dia. Maine apni saheli se paise udhar maange aur ladhke pariyojana me hissa lia. Samay ke saath bank ka paisa aur faayda aane laga. Ab mere parivaar wale khud mujhe gaanv ki sabha me jaane ko kehte hain. Sab samay ki baat hai!”

The SHG women members informed us about the day to day functioning of the SHGs. The SHGs organise regular meetings to discuss issues ranging from loans, government schemes, issues like sanitation to personal problems. In addition, two meetings every month are conducted at the block level with have two from each SHG. These representatives share information with all the villagers. In these villages women are shapers of socio- economic discourse. With assistance from RGMVP, vocational trainings and information camps are also organised in these villages.

It is clear that the SHGs hold great promise. Apart from financial independence, the model has brought about a change in the social order in these villages. It has enabled women to overcome their fears in approaching higher authorities and the police to voice their rights. As of June 2013, RGMVP has reached out to over 1 million poor households in 252 blocks of 41 districts in the most backward regions of Uttar Pradesh. More villages would be covered by RGMVP. If the SHG models are integrated with political trainings, these empowered women can easily be nurtured as political representatives giving wings to the idea of grassroots democracy.

-Mahima Malik

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