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Women Development Programs

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 each month.

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.

Case Study:

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.

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