By Preeti Sharma
Access to resources, capital and power is the dream of many. Moving ahead from the past, we are gradually waking up to the dawn of a new future, thanks to the various micro-financing schemes by self-help groups all over the country. Self-help groups are generating economic empowerment in the country and helping the nation in two ways: one, by rendering benefits to the woman directly concerned and second, by improving the standard of life of her family, the village and the society as a whole. India, like all developing countries, encounters poverty, particularly in the rural areas as nearly 70 per cent of the Indian population is agrarian.
Economic empowerment is the key to the overall empowerment of women and this is possible only when they are sentient to a better quality of life. Economic independence is also possible through sustainable schemes, owned and managed by women themselves. There are women living helpless lives. They do not have economic support from their families nor are they educated enough to work and recognise self-ability and rights.
Women empowerment is an ongoing and dynamic process, which enhances women'sability to change those policies and practices, which keep them subordinate. ?It is in woman'spower to dominate. To make women'scontribution to society visible, affirming women'sknowledge, skills and experience in various areas, creating a social environment for them, providing opportunities for girl education and enhancing women'sparticipation in political process at all levels,? opines Smt Aparna Basu, president, All India Women Conference (AIWC), Delhi.
Micro-credit programmes are participatory, people-centred and process-oriented. Under these financing schemes, women form their own self-help groups, together define their priorities and work to obtain credit and self-employment opportunities. ?The concept of self-help groups for women is a movement in itself. It is not only to give them functional literacy but also to provide them an alternative to gain self-confidence and earning solutions. The women who have never stepped out of the four walls of their homes, are now coming forward and forming saving groups and helping themselves and their families. This is happening with the efforts of self-help groups run by AIWC branches, SEWA, Working Women'sForum, Annapoorna Mahila Mandal and many other NGOs in the country,? informs Smt. Basu. She stresses upon the need for these programmes as they cater to the basic requirements of women by educating them on health, nutrition, literacy, women'srights, child care, computers and employment opportunities.
Micro-finance programmes have a predominant focus on the provision of credit for income generation with the objective to generate sustainable incomes and impact the quality of life of the poor and trigger empowerment of women (who are a significant proportion of the poor and who suffer disproportionately from poverty). Equally important is the fact that loans are required as much for consumption purpose (i.e. food, clothing, health and education) as for income generation, particularly in case of the poorest clients.
In India, the state govern-ments are encouraging these financing schemes and self-help groups, and of which Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are good examples. Where the govern-ments are not supporting, several women NGOs are trying to help of their own accord.
According to the NABARD task force, ?The fact that the poor are especially always faced with the situation of uneven cash flows, irregular employ-ment, uncertain income, nutritional deficiencies and health disorders, the demand for short term micro-finance is vast. In quantitative terms, it is estimated that demand and supply position of micro-finance is put at Rs 15,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore per year and an additional Rs 1,000 crore is estimated for housing per year.?
Micro-finance programmes have had a definite impact on poverty and measurable changes in various socio-economic parameters, namely children'seducation (including the girl child, ignored so far) nutritional and health status and women'sparticipation in decision making, particularly at the household level. According to Dr P.S. Rana, Chairman and Managing Director, HUDCO, ?To achieve a wider coverage of micro finance services among the poorest families, it is crucial that the Government of India creates a supportive policy framework and a facilitating environment.?
Broadly, three institutional arrangements for receiving micro finance are:
* Traditional advances by banks, both of their own accord and under directed programmes.
* Linkage programmes between self-help groups and banks.
* Wholesale credit to micro-finance institutions (MFIs) by banks and other apex agencies.
The State Poverty eradication mission of Kerala, also known as Kudumbshree, is one such women-oriented, poverty reduction programme, which is being implemented in the state with the support of both Government of India and NABARD. Women empower-ment and reaching out to families through women is a major concern and prime priority activity for Kudumbshree, which has been joined by more than 25 lakh poor women of the state and BPL families.
Likewise, Citigroup, partn-ered with many other NGOs, works with micro-financing schemes ?to empower the underprivileged and help transform communities.? When the earthquake struck Gujarat, nearly 800 families in Kukuma district suffered damage to their houses. The workplaces of weaver families suffered the heaviest. FWWB (Friends of World Women'sBanking), an NGO partner of Citigroup, came forward to provide them loans to enable them to buy raw material in bulk.
It is for the first time in India that so much effort has been exerted to apply the concept of micro finance for achieving the mission of poverty eradication. It has emerged as a powerful tool for providing access to timely credit for the women living below the poverty line and giving them more economic options.
Empowerment through Micro-financing schemes