Sarvodaya means ‘development of all’. Gandhiji’s concept of
development is Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, implying
the welfare of all through the weakest of the society. Principles of cooperation and collective endeavor are central
to society. Women remain the most deprived and long-neglected
segment of the society, despite the Constitutional
guarantees for equal rights and privileges for men and women.
Development is a process of Empowerment. Microfinance
through women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) is a significant medium of
poverty alleviation and empowerment of women. SHGs formed by women
in different places have proved that they could indeed
bring about a change in the mindset of the very conservative and
tradition-bound illiterate women in rural areas. The concept of
group formation is the best strategy to enlighten women and provide
necessary mental courage for self-employment.
This paper makes a strong case for SHGs as a new
development paradigm for bringing about gender equity among rural
women in India by creating self-employment opportunities
through microcredit. The study is based on the premise that
poor women can internalise production possibilities in
groups only. They are better-equipped to overcome the
negative social pressure and gender biases operating against
them through group identity and activity. However, the
relationship of credit access to self-employment is not
automatic but depends on various factors.
In reality the Microfinance experiment faces many hurdles which
have to be overcome if poverty has to be referred back
to the museum. This article promotes Gandhian Studies Centres
as catalysts in addition to Government, Banks and Non
Governmental Organisations to promote entrepreneurship through
adult literacy, training facilities and marketing facilities to SHGs.
This Paper is divided into three sections. Section 1 is an
introduction explaining Gandhian principles and the concept
of empowerment. The significance of Microfinance and
Self-Help Groups is described in Section 2. Section 3
explains the role of catalysts like the Government, Banks, Non
Government Organisations and above all Gandhian Studies
Centres in overcoming the various hurdles faced by SHGs in
order to make them sustainable.
Sarvodaya means ‘development of all’. Tribal villages
have a system of madait or sangat which literally mean
‘cooperation’. Gandhiji’s concept of development is Sarvodaya
through Antyodaya, implying the welfare of all through the
weakest of the society.
Principles of cooperation and collective endeavor are central to
society. "Trusteeship" implies that property belongs to all, and the
holder manages it and takes care of it only as a socially
responsible trustee. The
Gandhian model emphasizes decentralization of socio-economic and
political systems starting from the village to the highest level.
Village life should arouse a sense of cooperation and fellowship.
Voicing the silence of millions on International Women’s
Day, India’s former First Lady Usha Narayanan rued that
uneven development had left the majority of women in rural
areas untouched, unsung and neglected. Declaring that women
were not in need of crutches or hand-outs, she stated
that instead they need to be empowered to take their
rightful place in society (Prabhakar, 2004). Women remain the
most deprived and long-neglected segment of the society,
despite the Constitutional guarantees for equal rights and
privileges for men and women. Anti-poverty policies need to
reach poor women both to maximise social returns on
development investments and minimise the poverty of this
and the next generation (Lalitha,1999 and Narasaiah, 2004).
Concept of Empowerment
Empowering means enabling people especially women to acquire and
possess power resources in order for them to make decisions on their
own or resist decisions that are made by others which affect them.
Participation and control over resources are considered as the
critical indicators in the process of empowerment. Disadvantaged
women especially in rural areas possess least proportions of
resources and as a result they are powerless and dependent on the
powerful. Historically, credit access and terms have
discriminated against women (Manimekalai,1999) due to various
reasons such as inability to provide collateral, small-sized
loans, high transaction costs for banks formalities.
Microfinance through women Self-Help Groups is a significant
medium of poverty alleviation and empowerment of women. SHGs
formed by women in different places have proved that they
could indeed bring about a change in the mindset of the very
conservative and tradition-bound illiterate women in rural areas.
The concept of group formation is the best strategy to enlighten
women and provide necessary mental courage for self-employment.
Grouping of women has increased their awareness and reduced the
chances of exploitation by middlemen.
Empowerment of women is necessary for sustainable
development. Empowerment is increasing the capacity of women to develop self-reliance in
order to identify their problems. It emphasises solidarity and
collective action. Groups or communities act together in order to
gain access to policies and decision-making arenas where their
quality of life is determined. Development is a process of Empowerment.
Microfinance and Self-Help Groups
A Self-Help Group (SHG) is a group that consists of about 10 to 20
persons of a homogenous class who come together with a view to
address common problems. They collect voluntary savings on a regular
basis and use the pooled resources to make small interest
bearing-loans to their members. Collective wisdom of the group and
peer pressure are valuable collateral substitutes.
A rural women’s SHG enables members to become self-dependent
and self-reliant and provides a forum for members to exchange
ideas. It fosters a spirit of self-help and co-operation
among members in members and gives them strength and
confidence to solve their socio-economic problems problems.
Women’s participation in income-generating activities is
believed to increase their status and decision-making power.
The Group meeting also serves as a venue for other
interventions such as adult literacy programmes. Micro-credit
schemes are thought to be potent agents of social change
in impoverished settings where women are disadvantaged by
their lack of access to resources.
Entrepreneurship is challenging and requires capacity to take proper
decisions and responsibilities. Entering into entrepreneurship
independently could bring the desired change in attitude among the
rural women, make them conscious of the oppression and induce them
to take initiative and seize opportunities. Co-operative
entrepreneurship through Self-Help Groups can foster socio-economic
development and promote employment.
Advantages of a Group Approach
The concept of group formation is the best strategy to provide credit
and the necessary mental courage for self-employment. Poor
women can internalise production possibilities in groups
only. They are better-equipped to overcome the negative
social pressure and gender biases operating against them
through group identity and activity. An individual without
any experience of running a business is normally nervous
and wary of starting her own new venture but if a group
comes together with their different but supporting skills
to run a business, they provide mutual support, boost each
other’s confidence, point out each other’s mistakes and
guide each other. A group feels more confident in
approaching a bank or a Government department for a loan
or for benefit under a scheme. Grouping of women has
increased their awareness and reduced the chances of
exploitation by middlemen.
Problems of SHGs and the Role of Catalysts
Today the SHG concept has assumed a very significant role in the
development of our country, particularly in poverty
reduction. Hence it becomes all the more important to
identify the challenges faced by the SHGs and try to
mitigate the same. Exploitative markets, lack of entrepreneurial
skills, resources and opportunities are some of the problems
encountered by SHGs.
Poverty is a result of many factors, therefore, mere provision of credit cannot
assure development. From being a minimalist or an ‘only credit’
approach, microfinance has become a ‘credit plus’ approach
acknowledging that along with credit, other inputs like skill
development, literacy, health care, social awareness, support
services, etc. were also essential for the holistic development of
The Government, Banks, Non-Government Organisations and above all Gandhian
Studies Centres can function as catalysts and play a
pro-active role in mobilising, organising and sustaining SHGs.
Through volunteers of the Centres necessary training in
managerial, technical and marketing skills can be imparted to groups
to enhance their livelihood opportunities and make their enterprises viable.
Rural women have sparks which can be fanned into flames with necessary
guidance and training. There are innumerable possibilities
for promoting profitable small enterprises by rural women
and all efforts should be made to develop this nursery
for entrepreneurship. Self-Help Groups of assetless women
will have to be made sustainable through backward linkages
to credit and technology and forward linkages with organized markets.
The efficacy of SHGs would be considerably enhanced if a symbiosis
could be worked out between SHGs and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)
because by nature and mandate both these institutions have the same
objective viz. of ushering people-centred development and through it
to empower the disempowered.
- Lalitha, N. (1999):‘Institutional Support for Rural Women Entrepreneurship Development’, in Soundarapandian, M. (ed.) Women
Entrepreneurship Issues and Strategies, Kanishka Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.
- Manimekalai, N. (1999): ‘Nature and Characteristics of Women Entrepreneurs in India’, in Soundarapandian, M. (ed.) Women
Entrepreneurship Issues and Strategies, Kanishka Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.
- Narasaiah, Lakshmi, M. (2004): Gender, Inequity and Poverty, Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi.
- Prabhakar, Vani (2004):Women in Rural India, First Edition Dominant Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.
* Associate Professor in Economics & Director, Gandhi Study Centre, Nagindas Khandwala College