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(Published in The Assam Tribune on 14th july,2007

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WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND SELF HELP GROUPS
Women all over the world face threat to life, health and well-being, entitled to
lesser access to education and are over represented among the poor and powerless. In
countries like India where majority of women live in rural areas and are engaged in
subsistence agriculture or in other informal sector, the status of women has not improved
up to a responsible position and they remain as a disadvantageous group. The Second
Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women in Development, Jakarta, 1994,
identifies that women constitute thirty percent of the total labour force of the world and
perform sixty percent of all working hours but earn a meager ten percent of the world
income and own less than one percent of the world property. The situation is not much
different even today. According to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals
Report 2005: “Women’s access to paid employment is lower than men’s in most of the
developing world…. Women are less likely than men to hold paid and regular jobs and
more often work in the informal economy, which provides little financial security”. This
applies to the status of women in our country as well.
Considering the fact that half of the population of the world is women, progress
of any state or society is largely dependent upon the condition of women. It is not hard to
understand that unless serious efforts are made to eliminate poverty of women it would
not be possible to empower women and achieve gender equality. Strengthening women’s
economic security is critical to efforts to empower women. Although women's
contributions to the economy are not appreciated in the same way as their male
counterparts’ and their work is often unrecorded and poorly remunerated, the fact that
women craft wonderful contributions to the economy can hardly be denied. Contribution
of women towards development is not limited only to remunerative work but also covers
a great variety of unpaid work. But still the majority of poor people in the world are
women. Recognizing these vital facts, efforts to sensitize women and to help them think
about matters affecting them and to empower them to sort out solutions themselves is the
need of the hour. If women are to be taken out of miserable conditions, change in policy
and programmes leading to access to opportunities and economic resources from which
they are deprived of, has to be made. Almost all national and international conventions
and conferences, laws, constitutional provisions etc. emphasized the crucial need for
gender parity and women empowerment, and on the need of empowerment and autonomy
of women for the improvement in their condition of living including economic and health
status as a very important end in itself besides being an important tool for attaining
sustainable human development.
Empowerment may be understood as a process of increasing the spiritual,
political, social and economic strength of marginalized individuals and communities.
Empowering marginalized people implies helping them obtaining the denied
opportunities on their own, by people having access to those opportunities. At times, it
may involve an effort at preventing those who intentionally try to deny those
opportunities. Empowerment enables an individual to have greater control over the
decisions that influence his or her life. The idea of empowerment goes further to include

It is unfortunate that most of the formal financial institutions in India have failed to provide finances to the marginalized and disadvantaged groups including women. gender equality and women empowerment depend largely on strengthening women’s economic capacity. The power and freedom to exercise these rights bring about empowerment of women. Economic freedom and self sufficiency remains as the essence of women empowerment since economic freedom can play a major role in bringing about other qualities required for empowerment. level have been made to provide alternative system of banking for rural and poor women including other marginalized section of the society. It requires enterprise development not only in economic affairs. health. Although empowerment is a function of multiple factors. Empowerment being a developmental and continuous process involves a lot of changes through which an individual or a group may gain greater control over the factors and decisions influencing the condition of their life. Women form a sizeable number of poor. Though they constitute the lion share of workforce. more meaningfully. Women rights and empowerment are interdependent. It also requires economic security and freedom along with developing feelings of dignity. Real development of a society can take place only when social justice and gender equity are guaranteed. According to United Nations Population Information Network (POPIN) Guidelines on Women's Empowerment. They can participate in family decisions concerning family planning. Moreover. self-esteem. education and marriage of children etc. viz: women’s sense of self-worth. Ours being a male dominated society women did not have any credit scheme exclusively meant for them until very recent time. but also power relations in families. competence. Empowerment of women means a better definition of power relations between men and women. their right to have the power to control their own lives. focusing on reducing future need for help in the individuals from others. selfrespect. opportunities and more effective participation and interpersonal relationship.an effort at personal development. markets. sense of personal competence and confidence leading to a positive self-definition and finally culminating in increase of knowledge. and non-govt. The ability to exercise rights by women in socio-economic decision making can bring about empowerment. skills. and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order. resources. both within and outside the home. It is only after 1990 that efforts at govt. skills and abilities. Movements of women empowerment through Self Help Groups (SHG) started in India and in different countries of the world during the last two decades of the last century. and in communities. they mainly involve income related activities since other activities or decisions usually materialize when there are economic resources available for those. nationally and internationally. Women’s empowerment has five components. An SHG may be formally defined as a group of people based on the similarity of its members . unemployed and exploited (socioeconomically) in our society. information. their right to have and to determine choices. It does not simply mean increases in incomes. their right to have access to opportunities and resources. Women empowerment is an indispensable tool for economic development and reduction of poverty. Studies from around the world reveal that women who have economic self sufficiency and access to credit facility are more empowered and have control over the environment they live in. they earn a meager portion of income and do not even have control over whatever little income they have. on the basis of developing knowledge.

in 1996. This programme has been proved to be highly cost effective as a credit delivery mechanism and has become incredibly popular all over India. National Agricultural And Rural Development bank (NABARD) has defined a Self Help Group as a homogenous group of rural poor voluntarily formed to save whatever amount they can conveniently save out of their earnings and mutually agree to contribute to a common fund of the group to be lent to the members for meeting their productive and emergent credit needs. to mutually agree to contribute to a common fund and to meet their emergency needs on mutual help basis. Yunus. Important fact to note is that almost 90% of the SHGs linked are exclusive women groups. It has been a very good tool for providing micro credit facilities to the rural and marginalized poor people in our country. Conventional banking systems have been generally alien to the poor and rural women due to various constraints. SHGs have been credit linked with various banks and covered lakhs of rural poor people. Consequently the progress of SHG-bank linkage programme in India has been very encouraging. In the late 1980s. mostly by NGOs as part of rural developmental programmes. The group members use collective wisdom and peer pressure to ensure proper end-use of credit and timely repayment thereof. In fact. Reserve Bank of India. Yunus.sharing similar socio-economic condition. In India. SHGs have been highly successful in mobilizing savings from the poor members who were not expected to have any savings. was launched with an attempt to provide credit to the SHGs formed by rural poor through banking system through simple procedures. This highly successful programme had its origin in the proposal of MYRADA (a Bangalore-based NGO) for NABARD to try out with an alternative credit delivery system owned and controlled by the poor. the apex bank for rural development in India in 1992. According to the Reserve Bank of India(RBI)“A Self-Help Group (SHG) is a registered or unregistered group of micro entrepreneurs having homogenous social and economic background voluntarily coming together to save small amounts regularly. Keeping in view the incredible success of this effective credit delivery programme. Such groups deal with savings and credit to its members. He made an experimental attempt to start SHGs in 1981. MYRADA promoted Self-Help Groups and helped link them to a bank. Mohammad. which jointly won Nobel peace prize in 2006 with Dr. former Head of Economics Department of Chittagong University of Bangladesh. The program is spread over all the States and Union territories of India and thousands of crores rupees have been provided to the SHGs as bank loans. SHGs have diverse beginnings. peer pressure has been recognized as an effective substitute for collaterals”. Poor and rural people do not have proper banking information and the banks too do not consider them . The major initiative in this regard was made by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). try to ensure regular income to help members economically and empower them on socioeconomic and political fronts and to have control over their household and community environment. The pioneering effort in this regard was made by Dr. to help poor and marginalized woman that turned out to be a remarkable success leading to the establishment of Bangladesh Grameen Bank. A new programme named as the SHG-bank Linkage Programme. directed all banks to treat the SHG lending as a normal business activity under priority sector. Attempts made to empower woman on economic and other fronts through the formation of SHGs and thereby providing access to credit facilities through various micro credit programmes have been highly successful in India and elsewhere.

Thus SHGs have proved that poor people too have saving capacity and are bankable and creditworthy since they do not default in credit recovery due to small group pressure. relationship of trust and confidence between bankers and the rural poor and consequent preference of banks to SHGs over individuals for granting loans that promote banking behaviour among rural and marginalized population are some of the strengths of SHGs that may really help the cause of women empowerment. immediate and need based access to loans on lower interest rates than moneylenders. SHGs may train poor women in different trades to develop skills and instill the qualities of interaction and leadership. and finally they may provide information and education on socio-economic. may develop habits of savings and to create a shared fund through regular small savings to meet immediate as well as future needs. Tezpur Mobile: 9435083702/9435490113 Email: mukulsaikia1974@rediffmail. These banks do not provide micro credit facility and require considerable length of time to deliver. may provide training to develop skills required for income generating activities in group or individually. political and legal matters. They can promote economic empowerment by developing the habit of saving among the poor enabling them to meet their emergency economic needs on their own without falling under the clutches of private moneylenders or the village “Mahajans”. Furthermore. SHGs can educate them to use their savings for right purpose and to develop the habit of regular loan repayment. Since SHGs are mostly informal groups they can lend their pooled savings to members on rotation and on the basis of their needs.com . health. Consequently. Regular small savings by members to develop common fund. Such loans are simple. Darrang College. may provide knowledge about banking rules and help to exploit benefits provided by banks to SHGs. poor people may acquire the economic power and have control over the decisions that affect them. timely and high rate of loan recovery due to group pressure.credit worthy. Mukul Saikia Lecturer in Education. SHGs could play vital role in building self reliance and confidence among women that they need the most to empower themselves. Against such backdrops of banks and formal financial institutions SHGs have proved to be most promising tool for women empowerment through poverty alleviation. Thus. SHGs may also help women to unite together against social evils and they may develop a strong “we feeling” that would give them real power to make decisions and face challenges. collateral free and provide flexible schedule of recovery. democratic and decentralized operation. providing economic self sufficiency to women. SHGs may help the marginalized people in more than one way. easy. may help rural women to form groups for having a common platform to address common concerns. Formal banks require physical collateral for loans to be extended and the fixed schedule of recovery does not suit the poor borrowers. Moreover. cultural.