Thursday, 2 January 2014

Unleashing the power of rural women through Self-Help Groups

A World Bank report shows the impact that Self-Help Groups (SHGs) can have in empowering rural women. SHGs can bring social and political transformation– not only economic. A typical SHG in India consists of 1-20 poor women who meet to pool savings and discuss issues regarded important. SHGs lower the barriers to collective action, helping women to mobilize and pursue their interests.

The report investigated outcomes of a Self-Help Group programme facilitated by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Dungarpur District, Rajasthan in India. Dungarpur is considered a highly backward district with a population of 11 lakhs, 65% of which belong to the Scheduled Tribe communities.

In villages where the programme was run, women were invited to join an SHG for a nominal fee of Rs.5, and members were trained by SEWA. Once a month, the SHG met to set savings targets. Funds collected were used to open a bank account that was linked to the SHG. Members could take loans as necessary, with an interest rate as determined by the SHG.

The report examined the impact of the programme on two groups of women - SHG members only and second, on all the women in the villages (including the non-members).
The impact of SHGs was studied in economic terms (savings of women), social terms (where they willing more to assert themselves at home) and civic terms (participation of women in Gram Sabhas, their role in addressing grievances like faulty water). The results confirmed that the SHG programmes had significantly improved the economic, social and civic conditions of the women members. SHG members participated in group activities, their savings and non-farm employment opportunities increased. This was by a large amount (e.g. 55% for group participation and 21% for saving). Similarly, the programme enhanced the voice of women in domestic affairs and civic power particularly through greater engagement with Gram Sabhas.

For villages as a whole, the intervention led to the increase in group participation and savings (albeit by expectedly smaller amounts than above). Women’s say in domestic decision making increased. However the intervention did not have as striking an effect on civic and political engagements. Comparing the two impacts suggests that conditions of women as a whole in SHG villages can be economically and socially (although maybe not civically) beneficial, even if not all women join them. This increases SHGs value for money.

However, intensive research needs to be done to understand precisely which components of the programme had the biggest impact in enhancing rural women’s power. However the report does suggest that training and education modules were useful, particularly in increasing women’s savings.

From 1999, the Government of India has been funding the SHGs. This was first through the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, which was replaced in 2011 by the NRLM. This report supports the transformative power of SHGs and therefore strengthens the NRLM goal, of mobilizing all rural and poor households into membership-based groups by 2015. It will therefore be important to make sure that SHGs are appropriately and sufficiently funded.
-by Anirudh Mathur
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