Self-Help Groups – a factor in women empowerment!?

The article takes up the subject of Self-Help Groups which is considered to be one of the major factors in women empowerment. It tries to understand the question ‘why’ and reflects on if the prevalent casteism in the society affects its functioning in any way. Let’s have a quick recap of women empowerment and why do women need to be empowered!

Women Empowerment is an umbrella term which brings in the ways to help and enable women to grasp the freedom they are entitled to as all human beings are. The freedom to make choices; the freedom to spread their wings; the freedom to be just human beings. We need women empowerment because of the very perspective that women are so-called ‘weaker sex’. Years of being told this, it has penetrated into every hook and corner – and we need an uplift from this. We need empowerment to break free from the chains of “being allowed”. The actual fact that I am attempting to write an article on ‘women empowerment’ proves the very point of why we need to it.

Self-help groups has been one of the many ways adopted by different parties to empower women. How? In very simple words, it enables women to take financial decisions and help each other in doing so. Pretty simple, right! There are NGOs and banks which helps them take this process a long way or to even help them start. There are various ways this group can help women build up themselves. A group of women coming together can be quite an upliftment – other than providing a platform for financial decisions, it gives them an opportunity to discuss problems at personal level, bring out the issues of domestic violence; come out collectively with a solution; tackle issues of alcoholism and other such problems which are likely to pose threat to financial, emotional and social decisions of women.

However, even if SHGs provides the way to move forward to women, escaping the casteism issues is another thing. An article published in The Hindu brought out the point that caste play a dominant role in Self-help groups. The groups employ different categories, etiquettes r requirements of inclusion – a preference to caste could be seen, the study brought out (The Hindu, 2013). The caste issues have been ignored and been confirmed. A resistance to change in leadership, the position going to same caste has been detected. The strive to bring in diversity is lost. Rural areas – where community are more closely knitted also showcases casteism in not-so-subtle ways.

Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that SHGs have been an empowering factor. During the Covid-19 times, may SHGs suffered a backlog due to lack of funding affecting the lives of many. With no financial means, savings became out of question. However, there were many SHGs which also helped in battling Covid-19 by the production of masks – helping to meet the demand of the same. The point is to diversify the means of finance in the groups; to clear the inherent obstacle of caste; to collaborate across districts; to train them for the worst scenarios; to educate them. SHGs has enabled women to take financial decisions and come a long way but its diversification of ways is necessary to combat the worst times. It is important to identify the loopholes and come up with the collective solutions and move above the issues of castes.

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Categories: social issues

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