Women's Empowerment

Lessons learnt along the way…

Defaulting loan repayment, often due to interference of some men folks, was the problem in the initial years. After in depth discussions, it was resolved that loan amount should be limited to the pooled savings of number of guarantors from the group. In case of default, savings of guarantors would be adjusted against the refund. This practice helped check the unpredictable behavior of the loan seeking members. Now, loan defaulters could no longer get guarantors for their loan application.

shgIt was further resolved that all financial decisions would be taken by consensus in the presence of all members. It was also decided that unless the SHGs developed a track record of transparency, honesty and inclusiveness and the code of conduct was woven into the fabric of the group, the SHGs would not apply for credit from the banks. On an average, it took the SHGs about five years before they were mature and had credible self-governance before they took the next step of applying to banks for credit.

With the need for frequent travel to the bank to deposit cash which was not feasible cash started to remain idle with the organizer. This resulted in distrust among the SHG members especially when selected group organizers disbursed loans to select members with the pretext that majority members were not punctual in attending the SHG meetings regularly. To resolve these issues, decisions were taken for the responsibilities to be shared among different executive members (organizer, record keeper, accountant, signatories of bank account, etc) with a three yearly rotation of these responsibilities. To curb some of these issues the transactions were by majority consensus and by cheque only.

There was also a tendency in some groups to distribute among all savings among the members when they accumulated some  and then had to start afresh. This method did not bode well for long-range planning. A decision was made that groups which distribute all their savings and start afresh would be considered unworthy of the Jowar Health Assurance Scheme. Despite all these benefits, any member wanting to drop out would receive her savings and the 12% compound interest, but not her share of the revolving fund, which served as an effective deterrent against drop outs.

Traditional money-lenders asking for exorbitant interest were gradually sidelined as the SHGs grew and started to lend money at much lower rates of interest. The SHG also started to sideline microfinancing companies which had started making inroads into the village. Even though these companies were willing to lend money, they always had hidden fees and charged higher interest rates. As the SHGs matured and started to build a self-earned revolving fund (around 1 to 2 lacs of rupees) they could lend money at much reduced interest rates

Current status

Prof. Jajoo enthusiastically reflects ‘The SHGs were finally merging to be like a self –owned bank for its members by 1993. By 2011, the SHG’s had reduced their interest rates to 24%. With further increment in the revolving fund, the interest rates are expected to come down to 12%, equal to the interest rates charged by banks. Our goal still remains to reduce the interest rates to 4%, far less than the rate offered for crop loans by banks.’ He adds that “As I look back, this amazing exercise in self- empowerment and financial betterment, shaped by experiential learning, for the betterment of women became a reality and improved , the status of women in the family and in the society. This enabled them to become vocal in the Gram Sabha meetings.”

In his words ‘As trust developed among the members, the SHGs evolved into an educative forum and later, as a forum for social justice. The group members proactively attended educational camps, shared their experiences and success stories with other groups. Education would happen through religious songs by renowned religious saints and also by having one to one engagement of the villagers by fruitful discussions.’

Prof Jajoo looks back at this experience and summarizes ‘Having earned the credibility with the villages with the Jowar Health Assurance Scheme,  our role in this endeavor was and is of a partner in this educative process, that of a co-coordinator and the watchdog. Women came together to raise their voice against atrocities in the society and it spontaneously evolved into the anti-liquor movement, organic farming and agriculture for self-sustenance and Vastra Swavalamban - self reliance in clothing.

In this process, many cross-roads had to be passed, but many still remained ahead….

Milestones

  • 1990- inception of the women SHG
  • 1993 - linking critieria to Jowar Health Assurance programme
  • 2011- reduction of interest rates to 24%
  • 2013 - Strength - 200 SHG for women with total membership of 340 and 90 SHG for men with a total membership of 1440 in a total of 37 villages.

From a micro financing forum to an educational and awareness building forum

In Prof Jajoo’s words:
The participatory management of micro financing activity of the SHG, provided opportunities to learn from experience. We committed mistakes, shared them with other groups, discussed thread bare, searched for solutions, revised code of conduct and surpassed the cross-roads. It was a problem oriented continuing education. It did build up confidence that we can tread the alternative path. In other words, it was an experiment in Nai Talim  (Jeevan Shikshan : Education for Life) in built in to community action. Apart from exchanges in the form of experiential sharing, SHG’s also took up educational trips, educational camps.

Women started getting vocal in Gram Sabha (Village council meetings). Since women are proletariat of the proletariat, they had many anecdotes of atrocities to share. The most burning issue of alcoholism obviously found its address in to action in the form of anti-liquor movement. Strategically women decided not to seek support of police or judiciary, but to depend on their unity to solve this problem humanitarianly in the village.

Women destroyed liquor cans in village shops and established ban on liquor production. As they were not culprits, but ill and addicted, the womenfolk did not desire to punish their fellow being/family members by putting them to jail or disrespect them in open. Women created a social ethos wherein alcoholic would desist from manic behavior in open or undertake atrocious behavior by boldly resisting it.

The day anti-liquor movement took roots, we were assured that we are treading the right path.

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