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Self Help Groups – Instrumental in empowering women

2 Feb 2019
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Women constitute almost 50% of the total population in India. They are the key agents to achieve economic, environmental or social growth of the country. Despite this, women are discriminated and considered weak as compared to their male counterparts, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas. Even if she desires to break the glass ceiling and improve her social status, limited access to credit, education and healthcare surface as a hindrance. Although the need for women empowerment by providing equal rights to participate in society, education, skill development and employment can’t be denied any longer.

Realizing this need, Govt made efforts to evolve the idea of Self-help groups (SHGs) from the Gramin Bank model in Bangladesh around late 1970s. In India, it was first initiated by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in 1986-1987, facilitating sustained access to financial services for the unserved people.  Further, the state government of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala established separate organisations. Interestingly, another scheme was introduced in 1999, named Swarn Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) that promoted self-employment in rural areas through skill development within SHGs. The programme evolved as a national movement in 2011 and transformed into National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), the world’s largest poverty alleviation programme.

The formation of Self-help groups (SHGs) involve people, especially women from similar economic background to organize themselves into a group. The function of Self-help groups in India, is to engage with members and to make combined savings till the group gathers adequate funds to start a lending process for the group members.

Over the years, the role of SHGs in rural development has evolved. Today, the Self help Groups not just inculcate a habit of savings among women but extend microfinance to help initiate employment opportunities for them. Moreover, they also work in bringing various skilled stakeholders together and aim at building capacities of women, upgrade their skills and provide them adequate training for employment. One such successful example is the phenomenal initiative undertaken by Pangwala women in Pangi District, Himachal Pradesh.

The tribals of Pangwala is an underprivileged community. The condition of women in the region was miserable before. Most of them were uneducated, burdened with social norms and restricted by patriarchal norms. However, things started to change for better when 29 year old Nain Dei emerged to transform their in the area. After much struggles, in 2016, Nain Dei along with 1200 other women successfully formed 75 self-help groups.

Furthermore, Collective Efforts for Voluntary Action (CEVA), a non-government organisation supported these women to collaborate with National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). The idea was to give them financial assistance and hone their entrepreneurial skills, further to which, they were bestowed with adequate skills to cope with the changing market demands. Women in the groups started to create tribal woolen handloom, handicrafts, tribal specialities and pure organic products. Eventually, the products got recognition and fame in the local market. However, there was a need to create market linkages for these products to reach across India. CEVA helped these women to register their products with the brand named “Pangi Hills”.

Today, the wollens, curative herbs, and organic products from the brand “Pangi Hills” are in a huge demand. Six- Seven women in one group earn between Rs 2 lakh to 2.5 lakh per annum through their sale in exhibitions and trade fairs. Pangi Hills also has a website to cater its online customers. A true example of how technology can be deployed for a larger good.

Like Pangi hills, several women across India have improved their social status with SHGs. Such groups have facilitated the process of self-empowerment by overcoming inequality, enhancing participation of women in decision-making process. The groups act as a forum for women to initiate participatory events including trainings and awareness campaigns on crucial subjects like maternal health, AIDS, Child health, child marriage and help break stereotypes on gender roles.

In order to gain consistent growth and success of self-help groups, there is a need for NGOs, Micro-financing groups to come forward and render support in enhancing the role of these groups. Corporates can play a key role in motivating, training and guiding the SHGs and transfer awareness on various Govt Schemes, and marketing linkages that can help set up a sustainable organisational structure.

Over the years, the idea of SHGs has acted as a catalyst to empower women and alleviate poverty. India, to promote inclusive growth and uplift the position of women in the society, need to expand the concept of Self-help groups, especially in the unserved areas.

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