The condition of women in throughout much of Northern India can be characterized as a systemic pattern of gross gender inequity. This condition is only worse when one tries to consider the plight of rural women. We consider the following facts:
- The illiteracy rate among females is nearly twice the illiteracy rate of males. A staggering 62% of females in Uttar Pradesh (UP) are illiterate. The disparity only rises in the rural areas, where nearly 80% of women are illiterate
- For minimal wage tasks, the men receive is between Rs.35-45 a day. However, women doing the same work over the same period receive only Rs.20-30 per day.
One problem that has become of increasing concern to the doers at NEED is the lack of educational inputs which denies rural women any chance at receiving a focused human resource education including technical education. The statistical numbers once again provide a glimpse at the problem. There are currently 21 training and technical courses in the state of UP. However, only 7% of the students at these institutions are women. Of those 7%, nearly all are urban women. This leaves rural women at an absolute disadvantage. Those that need the opportunities the most are the ones least likely to get it.
Further, women make up more than 50% of the population in rural parts of northern India, yet this is not reflected in their participation in public life and civil society, particularly in the areas of socio-economic and political empowerment. Women’s participation at all levels of society is essential in order to take into account women’s needs and to ensure that women’s perspectives are incorporated into every level of the decision-making process.
For millions of women throughout India, the course of their lives is largely out of their control. For these women, decisions of when to get married, when to have children, or how many children to have, are not autonomous choices. Instead, they are often dictated by family, husband or society’s customs. Women are rarely educated or receive any vocational training and they are therefore completely dependent, both financially and socially, on their husband or family. Lacking control over such crucial life decisions, it is easy for many women to feel powerless.
India’s population has recently surpassed the one billion mark out of which 84 million are considered to be very poor. In the past years, the number of women living in poverty has increased disproportionately to the number of men living in poverty due to women’s limited access to power, education, training and productive resources, and the rigidity of socially ascribed roles.
Hence, the principal challenges lies ahead of NEED is the Socio-Economic Empowerment of Deprived Community, Especially Women, through building their Grass-Root Organizations, Creation of Opportunity & Enhancing the Human Resource Capacity in A Sustainable Manner. The broader question of what sort of opportunities these women ought to have is rarely considered.
The condition of women in throughout much of Northern India can be characterized as a systemic pattern of gross gender inequity. This condition is only worse when one tries to consider the plight of rural women . The notion of empowering women to break with the perceived role may be alive in the cities. However, reflecting the vast rural-urban divide present throughout India, it is never discussed at the rural level. Clearly, until these attitudes are challenged at an institutional level, and opportunities are made available, such conditions will not begin to change.
- To mobilize marginalized women into forming self-help groups, which provide the basis for credit programmes and credit challenges.
- To train NGO/CBDOs workers and other primary stakeholders in the role of micro-enterprise and micro-finance in broader gender issues, and to establish sustainable relationships with other NGOs in the area of Women’s Enterprise for future collaboration and exchange of ideas and experiences.
- To build the knowledge of Primary Stake Holders in management techniques for micro-enterprise and micro-finance, particularly in areas such as documentation and reports, market assessment and planning.
- To create a climate for sustainable and replicable women’s self reliance, through increased value, respect and dignity.
- To provide demand driven vocational skills and business training to marginalised women
Micro Credit initiative may be designed very well & aim at mainstreaming women, but in practice it may not necessarily succeed. Such intervention, if limited to just Forming Women Credit Groups & credit for consumption, may not help women to become the mainstream partners. The practice of Women SHG may still keep women within marginalized development. It has already been realized that information alone does not usher an empowerment process of a human being and similarly credit alone does not facilitate the sustainability and growth of Economic Activities.
Generating need based interest amongst communities, i.e. Women Credit Groups, Improved Local Self Governance in Rural Areas, Women Empowerment through Generic Issues, Social Cohesion, Policy Advocacy, Self Help to Meet Poor People’s basic needs, Capacity Building, gender sensitization, and training for creating sustainable economic development are some of the essentials that are needed to be integrated into a definite strategy to make women partners in the mainstream, and not beneficiaries.
NEED (Network of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development) has started to address some of these problems. The provision of financial services and the formation of SHGs (self-help groups) can play a pivotal role in changing the oppressive conditions that women face and bring about substantial empowerment. NEED encourages women to save small amounts of money and provides financial services such as loans and credit. In this way, many women have started income generating activities and have improved their standard of living. The SHG also creates social capital, which can be used to improve conditions in the community. For example, the Warsi SHG in Dasheri village has organized a system to improve drainage and to maintain roads in the community. As they became more respected they were asked to arbitrate on a land settlement dispute and have since been asked to intervene in several other conflicts.
Latifa, who helped to set up the Warsi SHG, is a good example of NEED’s work. She is a poor Muslim woman, who was abandoned by her husband when pregnant at the age of 16. When NEED first came to the village, Latifa had returned to her family and was working as a wage laborers. In the exploitative system that is all too characteristic of rural India, Latifa was working very long hours for a very meager salary. NEED taught her about the power of savings and gradually she developed a habit of saving small amounts of her salary. She then took another monumental step and showed huge social leadership skills in mobilizing 13 women to form a SHG around a vision. Latifa’s vision for the group was to train the members in the creation of traditional chikan craft, which could be sold at local markets. She began the process herself by upgrading her craft skills.
Gradually, she went from understanding 8 types to 36 types of chikan crafting. Through market exposure visits, Latifa and the other women were taught to negotiate with suppliers and to buy the raw materials for themselves with the accumulated savings from the group. Before the group was formed, the women relied on middlemen, who bought the materials and took the final product, paying the women a nominal sum for the craftwork while they took most of the profits. Latifa has gone even further, and currently travels to six different villages to teach chikan skills. By being able to articulate a vision and convince these shy and reserved women to share in her vision, Latifa has found that she has not only empowered herself, but that she can also make positive contributions to the common good. To date, NEED’s programmes have directly benefited around 5,000 other Latifas. Indirectly 20,000 – 25,000 women have benefited.
To begin to rectify this gross injustice, we at NEED have begun to envision the creation of a WOMAN Center (W-Women O-Opportunity MAN-Management Center) dedicated exclusively to the needs of rural women. We aim to create a dynamic center that will cater to the wide range of needs and create a diverse set of opportunities to forward the cause of women empowerment. As a result of an evaluation of its activities, NEED has found that formation of SHGs and provision of credit is often not enough. NEED has realized that micro-credit initiatives, if limited to forming Women’s SHGs and providing credit for consumption purposes, may not help women to become mainstream partners. Credit alone does not necessarily facilitate the sustainability and growth of economic activities. Generating interest amongst communities, forming SHGs, capacity building, gender sensitization and training in creating sustainable economic development are just some of the essentials that are needed to make women partners and not just beneficiaries.
NEED believes that the way to expand women’s participation in broader policy, advocacy & productive areas beyond credit is to open a specialist women’s training center in Lucknow. NEED has acquired a piece of land totaling 6,000 square feet to build a residential centre of excellence for women.
NEED, Lucknow, India
NEED would also like to expand its work in training NGO workers in gender issues and will incorporate this as a major area of the centre’s work. The centre will contain the following components:
Entrepreneurial Training Center – training in financial management, product marketing, the development of demand driven businesses and how to create social change in their communities. The methods used will be practical, live demonstrations in real situations in order to reach illiterate women.
Micro-finance Training and Facilitation – this unit will train women to create the basic micro-finance infrastructure and will sensitize formal institutions in understanding grassroots realities and in designing better financial products for the rural poor. It will also look at how to use the capital for social change.
Educational Intervention Programme and Gender Based Training – Over the next few years, NEED will build a curriculum covering many issues affecting women, based on NEED’s experience at grassroots level and the experiences of social service practitioners from many NGOs. The course will be partly based in the center and partly in the field in order to prepare workers for rural social work.
Crafts Center – this section will provide an area and tools for women to learn various crafts and to hold workshops to learn technical skills from each other to forward their business. Some examples of crafts currently being made include chikan craft and zardozi (embroidery), jute products, candles and incense sticks.
Retail Section – this section would allow women to sell their products direct to consumers, thus avoiding middlemen and increasing the women’s profits.
Economic Security and Material Change: The impact in this area will be seen in higher wages and income, increased assets, generation of employment, improved physical well being, improved education and health for girls and a better environment.
Human Rights: There will be an increase in business skills and leadership, self-respect and dignity, self-reliance, social discipline and responsibility.
Bargaining Power: The impact will be seen in women’s increased ability to bargain, make demands, seek resources and negotiate fair treatment or equal access to resources. Women will also gain direct exposure to market forces
Human Resources: More NGO workers will be trained in gender issues and will be able to replicate NEED’s programs at grassroots level, thereby increasing the coverage of the program .