Empowering rural women… the self-help group way. Really?

Empowering Rural Women in Goa:
An appraisal of Self-Help Groups under SGSY
Arlette M H Mascarenhas
Goa Institute of Rural Development & Administration
Ela, Old Goa
No date mentioned. 96pp.

Empowering women.... It’s one of those schemes with an unpronounceable, almost unrememberable names, probably crafted by bureaucrats with a one-size-fits-all approach in New Delhi. So who’s to blame for not recognising sufficiently the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana (SGSY Scheme)?

Do we fail to appreciate its potential? Have we just become cynical of all government? Have we no empathy left for rural concerns? Or is this all just official spin?

Mascarenhas introduces the SGSY as one of the “micro-credit programmes for women (that are being) increasingly lauded by development agencies as an effective intervention with a positive impact on economic growth and improvement of the social status of women”. This is not necessarily true in Goa, but in other parts of the ‘developing’ world and India.

So how is this being played out in Goa? Does it go beyond the traditional pickles-and-papads model? Does it impart new skills?

This study looks at Ponda and Quepem talukas. It focuses on all-women self-help groups. Ponda is described as the “land of temples, singing, drama and folk-art”. Becoming a tourism spot, with many engaged in tourism -related activited and agriculture, it’s very different from hilly Quepem with its villages scattered. Quepem’s people depend on agriculture and farming.

Mascarenhas says Goa has 426 self-help groups under the SGSY. With names like Nagesh SHG, Betora SHG or Kamakshi SHG, Navdurga SHG, Mahalsa SHG, and Sateri SHG, these tiny insitutions are bringing about a change in the way women perceive themselves, and their abilities.

Or, are they?

So what do they do? Mascarenhas writes: “Their activities include vegetable, flower and coconut selling, taking catering orders at weddings and feasts; and selling flowers, making and selling masala powder, pickles, sweets, papads, shell items, etc”.

Ponda’s many temples, notes the author, creates “good business” for selling flowers and coconut. But then, shouldn’t value-added speedy skill upgradation be a priority with Goa’s rural womenfolk? Can we just manage with a ‘more of the same’ approach?

In Quepem, meanwhile, self-help groups now have an income “from Rs 3000 to even Rs 6000 and even around Rs 8,000 at times”. This sum may seem like a pittance, when converted into dollar-equivalents. But consider the fact that many parts of Goa simply don’t have access to the monetised economy. And that, till a generation ago, most people lived ithout money in any case. On the other hand, we can’t get smug with a this-is-fine approach!

Activities are mostly agricultural like cashew, fruit and coconut selling, dairy farming, with a few taking up to sweet-making and candle-making.

Amidst a whole lot of detail — such as what motivated women to join, family incomes before and after joining the self-help groups, attitudes within the groups, group functioning and more — there is also an attempt to sketch
the broad picture.

Some conclusions from this study:
* Such groups can do “much better” in Goa.

* Mere financial assistance does not help the women.

* Many women do not possess prior experience in production.

* They need institutional support.
* Training, skill upgradation, marketing strategies is their need.
* Information on the latest available technology is also key.
* Such schemes are meant mainly for BPL (below the poverty line) sections; but others too manipulate and squeeze in.
* Officials need to focus on quality groups, rather than “just forming groups for quality sake”.
* Officials need training in rural communication, and patience with the rural poor.
* Before introducing credit programmes, officials need to offer brainstorming sessions on the principles of micro-credit.
* Group members need to act as managers and watchdogs, ensuring discipline on themselves and reducing dependency on “outsiders” (including NGOs, or non-governmental organisations).
* Villagers need training in marketing techniques.

Mascarenhas’ report suggests that such groups venture into other activities — fruit, fish and meat processing or canning; tailoring, flower and candle-making; organic farming; setting up nurseries and floriculture; mushroom
cultivation; moving into other varieties of food; working in handicrafts….

All in all, an interesting report, with some honest and critical pointers at where things need to be improved. While there could be scope for other perspectives on this issue, for sure it throws light on a topic that few are otherwise concerned with.


9 thoughts on “Empowering rural women… the self-help group way. Really?

  1. I would like to make a difference in this whole idea of empowerment of women. I believe we should not limit our approach to women from backward areas, slums, illiterate areas etc. I would like to plan and execute a simple strategy that will target any woman or girl below the poverty line and take steps to provide her with skillsets based on her individual IQ, ability to understand and deliver. So to say, bring in a new thrust which will have no limitations for these economically backward girls or women to choose and grow from a broad base of opportunities generated by like minded people, thereby never limiting an individual’s opportunity to selling milk or handicrafts or flowers. If there is any organization willing to provide me support I have a horde of ideas which will benefit these ladies.

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