Women’s Self-Help Groups :
In the struggle for development
and poverty reduction, Share and Care’s aim with Women’s Self-Help
Groups (SHGs) is to train the women in decision-making at all
levels of family and community planning. The focus is to create
a world where women can live in a safe and healthy environment
through the cessation of abuse, violence, child exploitation,
and religious intolerance.
In 2003 after many false starts,
Share and Care began to facilitate Women’s SHGs. Initially four
groups were created in Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram Districts.
By 2005 this number had grown to 350, and by the beginning of
2006, there were 400 groups! Much of the work revolves around
micro-finance, entrepreneurship, and income-generating programmes.
In addition however the women deal with domestic issues in their
own families and villages, mediating in cases involving abuse
of women and children.
A Women’s SHG is set
up when twelve to twenty women express an interest
in coming together to benefit themselves, their families,
and their village. They organise themselves with a
President, Vice-President and Treasurer, and commit
to saving at least a small portion of their income
In addition to the
financial commitment, they participate in monthly
or more meetings where trainings on issues of gender,
children, health, economy, hygiene and other pertinent
subjects are held.
After six months of careful
saving and record keeping, the Tamil Nadu Government gives them
a loan of 25,000 rupees (about US$580) with which to create
and implement an income-generating project. With the completion
of the project and repayment of Rs. 15,000 (Rs. 10,000 is a
subsidy or grant), the women are eligible for a second loan
of Rs. 3 lakhs (300,000—almost US$7000). With this they can
create a substantial enterprise, and so far ten of Share and
Care’s groups have accomplished this.
Examples of projects include a restaurant (called ‘hotel’ in
India), a small department store, a dairy farm, a rice shop,
and a canteen (fast-food informal restaurant). The women are
required to repay only Rs. 1 lakh 75,000 (175,000), the rest
is a subsidy. Periodically the government sends an inspector
to verify their activities and accounts.
Every few months the Tamil Nadu
Government offers training for women on a variety of topics.
Publicity is negligible, instead the government notifies NGOs
with Women’s SHGs. The women come to and stay in Chennai at
the government’s expense. They learn about women’s rights and
how to fight for them, equality, and how to stand up to local
panchayats. Financial areas include how to create a habit of
saving, banking, and accounting, how get involved with micro-credit
programmes, and how to operate a micro-credit revolving fund.
Share and Care’s Women’s SHG
Project coordinator, Maheshwari, follows up their Groups’ applications
to the government; this helps expedite receiving the funds.
As well, the fact that Share and Care has official recognition
by the Government Rural Development Department enables easier
access and the women can readily take advantage of the funds.
There are many good results from
the SHGs. First it brings women together in a new way, dedicated
to bringing about change at home and in the village. Access
to training provided by both Share and Care and the government
elevates the women’s ability to both apply peaceful means in
solving family and village conflicts, and benefit financially
from the income-generating activities.
In Velagapuram village there was a husband who beat his
wife almost every day, egged on by his mother. Deep in
debt, it was a very unhappy family. The wife finally turned
to the local women’s SHG.
After becoming a member
the woman took out a low-interest loan to help the family
out of debt. This led to the family beginning to respect
her, and soon the husband stopped beating her. Through
the SHG she developed a sense of self-esteem and usefulness.
Concrete signs of empowerment
show on several levels. Even something as simple as clothing
becomes a symbol of newfound independence, as women no longer
fear their gossipy neighbours and go out in stylish churidar
or salwar kameez instead of a sari. Confident in their new knowledge,
they take a lot of responsibility in their villages. On International
Women’s Day they celebrate enthusiastically, singing, doing
rangoli (sidewalk chalk designs), a fashion show, and public
speaking. They fight for better education, sanitation, electricity—their
basic way of thinking has changed. Because the women have come
together in a positive way, they want to rise. And in spite
of the fact that some of their husbands remain alcoholic and
abusive, the women are no longer victims; they no longer need
their husbands to survive, and so have no expectations. The
women are proud and happy to be who they are.