Self Help Groups

By , June 11, 2009 5:23 am

SARTHI started the work with women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs) in 1988. The main purpose at the start was to empower rural women by enabling them to acquire the necessary credit for productive assets. It also creates employment where currently none exists and helps the women secure an income. The groups have developed to become a forum for women’s empowerment in extended areas, such as health, legal rights and Panchayati Raj. At present SARTHI is working with 417 SHGs in 200 villages in four districts (including Dungarpur district of Rajasthan), and the total number of members is 5763. There is a great collective strength in the SHGs, and by organizing themselves at federation level the women become a strong pressure group. This is important for the status of women in the public sphere, where inherited structures of male domination are slowly being broken down.

In the SHG meetings women’s health issues are being taken seriously, and the SHGs are responsible for educating local health workers.

One of the most important impacts for the women by the SHGs and federations is a raised level of awareness on gender issues. The various leadership and management trainings/workshops/seminars and exposure visits helps both the individual members, as well as the groups, to strengthen themselves. Men are now realizing that women are indeed able and capable of saving money and taking responsibility of the funds borrowed. As a result, men are permitting the women of their households to attend meetings and participate in the savings groups. They were initially worried about the women leaving their homes because they felt the meetings were a waste of time and were worried about who will take responsibility of cooking and doing other household work. Men are now taking part in doing household work and, more importantly, men are respecting and listening to the women. The SHG meetings break the physical isolation for women as they now get to discuss topics of direct relevance to them with other women. The women also get empowered in the areas of legal rights, Panchayati Raj and health. As gender discrimination is being frequently discussed, girl’s lower access to education is questioned. Thereby the future of the young girls today looks much brighter. Furthermore, the women are now beginning to organize themselves at federation level as one strong pressure group with a collective voice against discrimination in a vide range of areas.