Women and development - the self-help group movement

A Self Help Group is a group of about 20 people from a homogeneous class who come together for addressing their common problems. They use the pooled resources to lend small interest loan to its members. This process gradually helps in learning prioritization of needs, financial literacy and developing credit history.

Once the group show their mature financial behaviour, banks are encouraged to make loans to them without any collateral and at market interest rates.

The group continues to decide the terms of loans to their own members. The peer pressure ensures timely repayments.

It has been realised that the best way to improve the overall condition of rural women is to adopt ‘policies of inclusion’ in which every woman should get a chance to participate in the decision making process, express her view against exploitation and get herself involved in the group activities for their socio-economic upliftment.

Ever since independence, a number of innovative programmes have been launched for upliftment of women but the results seems to be far from satisfaction. Prime reasons being improper identification of beneficiaries, lack of participation of women, high dependence on formal sector credit agencies which are yet to reach to vast majority of rural India. The problem required a complete paradigm shift where the flexible and responsive system meets the needs of the poor. Viewing in the welfare programmes of 9th five year plan the shifting concept of ‘development to empowerment’, the Indian govt. adopted the approach of ‘Self Help Groups’ to uplift the rural poor.

At present there are over 16 lakhs SHGs operating all over the country, of them 90% being women SHGs.

Prerequisite to form SHGs:

The first and foremost requirement for any social movement in the role of a catalyst in mobilizing the members, assuring them of an affirmative result and making them well familiar with the possible means to accomplish the task. Similar is true for WSHG.

It requires catalyst who is trained to mobilise the women in convincing them or their male counterparts of the possible earnings of the former through group activities.

Since the women lack the basic capabilities and self-confidence to counter and challenge existing disparities and barriers against them, it is always required that their male counterpart must be convinced first to allow them to get exposed to different resources and organisation outside the home.

In selecting the members, a homogeneous community, people’s from same socio-economic  background should be chosen. Mixing up different caste group/APL-BPL group would definitely raise the trouble in our caste dominating society.

It is through SHG that women get exposure to outside world. Resources and organisation which were unseen earlier become accessible. Weekly meetings, weekly savings, internal lending, repayment of loan not only build the confidence in themselves but also encourage bonding among the group members.

It indirectly promotes literacy among the illiterate women. It also promotes matured financial behaviour.

The members have been successful in reducing poverty of the family participation in SHGs increases their influence over economic resources and participation in economic decision making.

Getting exposure to the outside world, coming in contact with govt. officials undoubtedly develops their personality. The discrimination of women in the name of patriarchy is fading away gradually.

Although the group does not play any active role in politics, the political leaders persuade the members to take their sides during elections as they feel that the SHG is an ideal group which women try to imitate. This ensures their increased political participation.

WSHG works as a catalyst in removing other social maladies like anti-liquor movement.

On the basis of their credibility, WSHG in Nayagarh Orissa, has been given responsibility of collecting electricity charges by state electricity board. This reflects effectiveness of WSHG movement.

Above examples justify the fact that not just economic upliftment  of women but WSHG also play an important role in uplifting their status in the society.

Problem of short span of WSHG:
The question arises, while having so much prospectus of growth why a number of WSHG meet their end before time.

Reasons of short span of WSHG:

1. Their heterogeneous character, despite the rule that members of the SHGs should be brought from homogeneous groups, is a prime reason of their death.

2. In many cases the women members are allowed by their male counterparts to join the groups with anticipation of immediate returns. As the process of saving, lending etc is time taking, they lose the patience of waiting for a long time.

3. At many instances, the patriarchal dominance over the women plays an important role. The husband considers it underestimation of his status and does not allow further to participate in self help group.

4. Inspite of the apparent success of the concept, still many bankers are reluctant to support/credit the group whole-heartedly. The deep rooted traditional mindset of banks which views poor as credit risks, is difficult to change.

Despite the odds WSHG has been facing since the day of inception, the WSHG movement has accomplished the task of poverty reduction to a great extent. A critical element in expanding SHG movement is to change the banker’s attitude that ‘the poor lacks the repayment capacity’. It is not a magic wand that the results would come overnight. It requires the hardwork and the patience of the members, as well as the catalysts.   
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