PAPER PRESENTATION ON WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND SELF HELP GROUPS BY Mrs. REBECCA THOMAS Lecturer in Commerce NES Ratnam College, Bhandup(W). WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND SELF HELP GROUPS Introduction Women and children, who represent more than two-thirds (67. 7%) of the country’s total population, constitute the most important target group in the context of the present day developmental planning. Therefore their concerns are placed on the priority list of the country’s developmental agenda.
For more than a decade’ the term ’empowerment’ has been widely used in relation to women as well as marginalized community in India, Today one hears this term much more often than terms like women’s welfare, upliftment,development are awareness rising . how ever ,in spite of the growing popularity and widespread usage of the term, there have been few conceptual explorations of what exactly empowerment means, and even more, what the empowerment of women implies in social, economic and political terms.
Women’s empowerment is a global issue today and discussion on women’s political rights are at the fore front many formal and informal campaigns world wide. Empowerment in its simplest form means “the manifestation of redistribution of power that challenges patriarchal ideology and the male dominance” . becoming powerful is the literal meaning of the term ’empowerment’. These are being used today in spears of life as a process to strengthen the elements of society.
It is both processes as the results of the processes. It is transformation of the structures or Institutions that reinforces and perpetuates gender discrimination. Empowerment is the process that enables women to gain access to and control of materials as well as information resources, the empowerment approach was first clearly articulated in 1985 by Development Alternatives with Women capital for a new era ( DAWN).
This term received prominence in early 90’s in western countries. Empowerment is the process of challenging existing power relations and of gaining greater control over the sources of power. The goals of Women’s empowerment are to challenge patriarchal ideology to transform the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and social inequality and to enable poor women to gain access to and control of both material and informational resources.
It can change existing power relations by addressing itself to the three dimensions of material, human and intellectual resources. Empowerment cannot occur as a revolution but only as evolution. Appointing a committee on the status of women in India in 1971, the report of towards Equality (1974) which finally led to the preparation of the National Perspective Plan for Women 1988-2000. This plan puts together almost all that Women have aspired for and what has been formally promised to them.
Though the plan claimed to provide an alternate strategy of national development, so far as the upliftment of women and their emancipation are concerned, -1- it was admitted that no additional financial outlays were proposed for programmes specifically designed for upliftment of women, who are supposed to be woven into the social fabric in what was called an Integrated National Developmental Strategy.
In the then prevailing social, economic and political environment when there was no commitment on the part of the political and administrative machinery such a tall claim and any expectations on that basis appeared to be misplaced. The report of the National Commission for self-employed women and women in the informal sector also authenticated many realities about the conditions and contributions of women in this sector. NGO’s working with women gained much strength and confidence from this report.
The appointment of the National Commission for Women (NCW) in 1992 and the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) in 1993 are part of the overall strategy of an integrated approach to empowerment of women adopted by the government in the nineties. Approaches to Women’s Empowerment Women’s Empowerment according to Kamala Bhasin involved the main transformation of power relations at six different levels, namely individual, family, group, organization, village, community and society. In order to empower the rural poor especially the women, female workers must first empower themselves.
Batilwala has identified three approaches to women’s empowerment :the integrated development approach, which focused on women’s survival and livelihood needs; the economic development approach, which aimed to women’s economic position; and the consciousness approach, which organized women into collectives that address the source of oppression. The consciousness raising approach asserts that women’s empowerment requires awareness of the complex factors causing women’s subordination.
This approach organized women into collectives that tackle the sources of subordination (ASTHA, Deccan Development Society, Mahila Samakhya, WOP in India, and Nigera Kori in Bangladesh). The Female empowerment approach stresses the capacity of women to increase their self reliance and internal strength. The empowerment approach to women’s advancement in developing countries recognizes that the patriarchal structure of subordination must be addressed through women’s organizations at the grass- root level.
Such local groups can facilitate bottom up change by providing a social mechanism to raise women’s consciousness about their subordination. Broad categories of Empowerment Empowerment can be broadly categorized as: * Economic empowerment * Political empowerment * Social empowerment Economic empowerment: Economic empowerment is undoubtedly the key and may lead to all other kinds of empowerment. This is truer in the context of women. A major cause of women‘s subordination is said to be her economic dependence. -2-
In the event of social crisis, a woman is unable to express or decide for herself mainly because she has no means to support herself and her children. It is precisely because of this that many women development programmes either emphasize fully or have a component on the income generation activity so that their is money available in women’s hand and she moves towards economic independence and takes the first step towards empowerment. The Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP)which is the main plank of poverty alleviation provides for 40 percent beneficiaries as women .
The programme of Training of Rural Youth for Self Employment (TRYSEM) again provides for forty percent trainees to women . Wage employment programmes such as Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY) and Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS)have also provided wage employment to women to the extent of forty percent . Then the exclusive programme on Development of women and children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) provides income generating activities to women. Political empowerment: Till the end of the nineteenth century women in India were crushed under the weight of evil customs.
They were socially suppressed, economically dependent and politically powerless. Politically women were less conscious, less articulate, and less active. They were basically apathetic and indifferent towards the political process. However, women with elite background and political families always found it easy and had a smooth entry in politics. Women’s traditional role demanded full attention to home. This domestic focus combined with modesty as a primary virtue kept other women away from politics in general. Social empowerment: ocial empowerment is by far the most difficult and long term goal to attain ,because social equality includes equality of treatment, equality of respect, equality of opportunity, equality of recognition, and above all equality of status. It basically entails a change in perception, attitudes and values which are hard to achieve. Several important social legislations are also enacted which aim at social empowerment of women that include: •The Hindu Widows Remarriage Act,1856; •The Child Marriage Act,1929; •The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; •The Adoption and Maintenance Act,1956; •The Inheritance and Guardianship Act, 1956 The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961; •The Maternity Benefits Act, 1981; -3- •The factories Act 1948(Provisions Relating to creches); •The Equal Remuneration Act 1976; •The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971; •The Immoral Traffic (Prevention ) Act 1986; •The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 and Rules 1987; •The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act 1987; In addition a few changes have been brought about by way of either amending the existing acts or by the way of fresh enactment with the objective of providing greater gender justice and to improve the social and legal status of women.
Some of these measures are, •Amendments to the Indian Evidence Act. 1872 in 1983 as part of the judicial reforms: •Amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the additions of several new clauses during 1983 and 1986 as part of judicial reforms. •The Family Courts Act 1984 to expedite disposal of selected family disputes: •The Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 to prevent the increasing incidences of female foeticide. Women are still oppressed in many spheres of life and need to be empowered in all walks of life. All aspect of society has to be restructured.
The empowerment mechanism is easily enumerated. All agree that women should have •Higher literacy and Education; •Better health care •Higher age at marriage. •Better skills and better work participation •Economic Independence. •Advancement into Higher positions of power and decision making. •Self reliance. Self respect and dignity •Better conditions of living with leisure. Empowerment of women in India The Indian constitution in its fundamental rights has provision for equality, social justice and protection of women; these goals are yet to be realized.
Women still continue to be discriminated against, exploited and exposed to inequalities at various levels so the concept of empowerment as a goal of development projects and programmes has been gaining wider acceptance. By empowerment woman would able to develop self esteem, confidence, realize theirs potential and enhance their collective bargaining power. Women’s empowerment can be viewed as a Continuum of several interrelated and mutually reinforcing components such as; -4- Awareness building about women’s situation, discrimination and rights and opportunities as a step towards gender equality. Collective awareness building provides a sense of group identity and the power of working as a group; •Capacity building and skill development, especially the ability to plan, make decisions, organize, manage and carry out activities to deal with people and institutions in the world around them; •Participation and greater control and decision-making power in the home, community and society; •Action to bring about greater equality between men and women.
Emergence of Self-Help Groups: The New Women’s Movement All over the world, there is a realization that the best way to tackle poverty and enable the community to improve its quality of life is through social mobilization of poor, especially women, into self-help groups. Ever since Independence, a number of innovative schemes have been launched for the upliftment of women in India. Indian Government has taken a lot of initiatives to strengthen programmes. However, formal sector credit agencies find it difficult to reach the vast majority of rural people.
The problem highlighted above required a complete paradigm shift where the flexible and responsive system meets the needs of the rural poor. Viewing it in the welfare programmes of ninth Five-Year Plan (1997-2000) and shifting the concept of ‘development to empowerment’, the Indian government adopted the approach of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to uplift the rural poor women focusing on the following aspects: •Direct involvement of women in programming and management, •Effective collaboration with community organization, •Organization and strengthening of women’s self-help groups, •Sensitization and advocacy of gender just society,
Organizing women in different groups to undertake certain productive activities to earn their livelihood and to develop rural community. Empowerment of women through self-help groups would lead to benefits not only the individual woman and women groups, but also to the families and community as a whole through collective action for development. These groups have a common perception of need and impulse towards collective action. Empowering women means not just for meeting their economic needs but also through more holistic social development. Origin of Self-Help Group (SHG)
The concept of SHG follows the principle, “by the women, of the women and for the women”. The origin of SHG is the brainchild of Grameena Bank of Bangladesh, which was found by the economist, Prof. Mohammad Yunus of Chittagong University in the year 1975. -5- Self-help group is a small, economically homogeneous, affinity group of rural poor which is voluntarily ready to contribute to a common fund to be lent to its members as per group decision, which works for group solidarity, group awareness, and social and economic empowerment in the way of democratic functioning.
The SGH movement became a silent revolution within a short span of time in the rural credit delivery system in many parts of the world. It has been documented the nearly fifty-three developing countries, including India, have taken up SGH movement on a large scale. In 1997, World Micro Credit Summit at Washington converged the developed and the developing countries to tackle the serious problem of poverty by using micro credit as a tool to empower the poorest sections. Concept of Self-Help Group ‘All for all’ is the principle behind the concept of self-help group (SGH).
It is mainly concerned with the poor and it is for the people, by the people. SGH, a mini voluntary agency for self-help at the micro level, has been a focus for the weaker sections particularly women for their social defence. Self-Help group has got great potential in increasing awareness on day-to-day affairs, promoting in savings habit, developing self and community assets, increasing the income level, increasing the social power, etc. The concept of SHG generates confidence, self-security and self-reliance. Objectives of Self-Help Groups The following are the main objectives of self-help groups: oTo inculcate the habit of saving and banking habit among the rural women. oTo build up trust and confidence between the rural women and the bankers. oTo develop group activity so that various welfare and developmental programmes can be implemented in a better way with the participation of these groups. To achieve Women and Child Welfare Programme goals by actively involving these women groups in Universal immunization Programme, Pulse Polio, small family norm, Universal Elementary Education Programmes etc. Characteristics of Self-Help Groups A via-media for development of savings habit among the poor, •An access to large quantum of resources, •A window for better technology/skill up gradation, •Availability of emergent, consumption/production credit at the door step, •Access to various promotional assistance, and •Assurance of freedom, quality, self reliance and empowerment. Self-help groups also promote democratic culture and provide women with opportunities to imbibe norms of behavior that are based on mutual respect. Hence they were able to foster concern even in lending of loans based on the individual needs ad priorities.
It provided a firm base for dialogue and cooperation in programmes with other institutions like government departments, cooperatives, financial and Panchayat Raj Institutions. -6- The self-help groups engaged not only in productive economic activities but also in social empowerment and capacity building of rural women. Health education, medical facilities, literacy, alternative agriculture practices, leadership qualities and team building are other activities of self-help groups. Various studies have revealed that SHGs ensured ‘we feeling’ among the members achieving the group cohesiveness and accorded a social identity to the rural women.
It also enabled them for collective bargaining while keeping up their dignity. It is closely linked to economic independence. Nothing succeeds better than the self-help group. And when efforts are supported by the government and private agencies like results could be extremely gratifying. Today there are more than three lakh SHG women focused around economic activities like savings, collective marketing, and promotion of individual enterprise and in the process of moving into the main stream of society.
In the process, leadership qualities blossom, discipline prevails and true democracy begins to function. This also helps add value to the work they do, their families and their communities. A social movement has thus began wherein rural women started saving money by forming themselves into small groups and come together to decide all issues which affect their life. During the last 5-6 years a saving movement caught up the imagination of women as a means of self-help groups through which they are trying to mould their destiny.
It may be rated as the most successful anti-poverty programme and contribution to women’s empowerment and the expectation continue to be high, the need for taking a look at the present status has been felt. Thus women empowered by economic independence can contribute to society and at the same time improve their standard of living. Their self-esteem can be demonstrated and taken to logical conclusion where empowered women folk will take their rightful place in the path of progress.
In promoting self-help groups both Governmental and Non-Governmental agencies are involved. Self-help groups have been designed to benefits women especially in rural belt towards providing them social status and identity. Hence, the Central Government has invited the States Government to become involved in the SHG movement. Therefore, the Central Government has asked the State Governments of Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, MP and UP to provides the same momentum for his development and promotion of SHGs.
Self Help Groups in Andhra Pradesh (A. P), the Govt of Andhra Pradesh has taken up women’s empowerment as one of the main strategies to tackle socio economic poverty, SHG movement thro’ savings has been taken up as mass movement by women, a path chosen by them to shape their destiny for the better the status making efforts to assist SHG’s by providing revolving funds under various programmes there are about 7,36,569 women SHGs in A. P covering nearly 80,48,658 of rural poor women, A. P alone has about half of the SHGs existing in the country. -7-
Socio-economic survey of self help groups conducted by District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) in different districts as indicated, that the scheme has helped women to earn additional monthly incomes ranging from Rs. 2500 depending upon the economic activities taken up In addition women have taken up initiatives in improving their socio-economic status by participating in governmental programme such as family planning, pulse polio, AIDS awareness, Small family norm, promoting nutritional and Educational status, awareness on environment, public health thro’ sanitation and clean drinking water etc.
Status of Self Help Groups in Andhra Pradesh 1999-20002002-2003 Total Groups (No’s)3,73,0444,36,579 Women covered (in Lakhs)50. 6558. 50 Women savings (Rs. In crores)420. 45780. 20 Govt. Assistance Rs. In crores)404. 54630. 16 Total Corpus (Rs. In Crores)824. 991413. 36 Loan mobilized from banks under SHG linkage programme (Rs in Crores)886. 28931. 81 Average Savings per groups (Rs. )11258. 0017939. 00 Average Credit per groups (Rs. )23750. 5529261. 00 Average Corpus per groups (Rs. )22088. 8532376. 00 SHGs up to year 1994 (Nos. )10,000 SHGs initiated in 1999-2000 (Nos. 95,000 SHGs initiated in 2000-2001 (Nos. )60,000 Due to this massive self Help movement there is a perceptible improvement in the socio economic Status of the rural women. From persistent efforts of the Govt. women have become very active, assert and are concerned with issues relating to themselves and their surroundings right from the beginning non governmental organizations in A. P are working for the cause of women and more than 200 committed NGOs have become involved in facilitating in formation of SHG and efforts for their sustenance.
Suggestions of the Improvement of SHGs •Adult and continuing education programmes can be conducted for illiterate women workers. -8- •Women should undergo vocational training programmes to utilize the money in a proper way. •The members may be given training on managerial and leadership skills and may be motivated to present themselves in Panchayat elections and to take part in the political activities. •The SHG members may be motivated to prepare annual action plans in their group which will be useful in planning their activities efficiently.
Conclusion The self-help groups (SHGs) are informal voluntary associations of people formed to attain a collective goal of people who are homogenous with respect to social background, heritage, caste or traditional occupations came together for a common cause to raise and manage resources for the benefits of group members. ‘All for all’ is the principle behind the concept of self-help groups. SHGs, a mini voluntary organization for self-help at the micro level has been a focus of programmes for the weaker sections particularly women. -9-