Achieving Women Empowerment

Achieving Women Empowerment: Role of Marginalized Women and Micro Credit

Independent India has witnessed significant achievements and milestones with the rapid strides of economic growth in the last decade. In this glowing Indian society, women are honoured as a goddess. In contrast to this reality, they are suppressed in every sphere of life. It is explicitly seen in educational systems, traditional practices, religious doctrines and within families. They are denied access to women education, job training and health care services. It is being reflected in Gender Inequality Index (Gil) and Gender Empowerment Index (GEM) of the country. It also revealed how strenuous for India in progressing towards United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Perceiving the oppressed life of women, the state and central Governments have taken numerous efforts to implement women empowerment programs and legislations. However, the women’s dignified human living conditions have not progressed significantly.

Among these women, over the centuries rural Dalit women, who are ‘marginalized’ continue to remain in the lowest rung of the ladder of the Indian society. In India, striving towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be realised only when the status of these Dalit women progress. In most of the Indian languages ‘Dalit’, means ‘oppressed and downtrodden’.

According to census 2011, Dalits constitute 16.61% of the total population. Of the multitude of marginalised Dalits, Dalit women are the most unfortunate in free India, who experience triple oppression in the name of caste, class and gender. They are thrown to the dehumanised life status. The present research study strived to portray the problems and possibilities in achieving MDGs from the marginalised women perspective.

Gender Inequality Index (GII)

According to Gender Inequality Index (Gil) of Human Development Report (2010), India is in 119th position among 169 countries. Gil depicted that maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 450 for every 1000 newborn, adolescent fertility rate is 68.1, seats in parliament is 9.2%, population with at least secondary women education above the age of 25 years and older is 26.6% (male 50.4%), labour force participation rate is 35.7% (male 84.5%), contraceptive prevalence rate for 15-45 years is 56.3%, antenatal coverage of at least one visit is 74% and births attended by skilled health personnel is 47%. According to Gender Empowerment Index (GEM) of UN Human Development Report (2009), India is in 134th position among 183 countries. This statistical information substantiated the lower position women hold in Indian society. Among them, the women who belong to the lower caste groups are pressed under intense dehumanized treatment and unhealthy conditions. Unless these women reach a dignified status and experience human rights, India’s march towards MDGs will stumble.

Challenges of Untouchability

Of the multitude of marginalised Dalits, Dalit women are the most unfortunate in free India, who experience triple oppression in the name of caste, class and gender. The notion of uncleanness attached to Dalits especially Dalit women culturally and socially chained them down in enslavement. Despite the development and growth of the country still manual scavenging, dealing with dead bodies and death information, cleaning public sewage, etc., are assigned only to Dalit communities. Unless they are delinked from the traditional jobs, the self-image of Dalit women cannot be improved. In order to delink, motivation for educating Dalit children has to be given to their parents and to the children. Educating Dalit children is the best way to bring them out the cycle of oppression.

Economic Dependence

Poverty among Dalit women is very high. They live in a substandard living condition. Most of them live in single room houses, built and given by the Government under different schemes. The poor living condition does not offer the privacy or basic sanitation facilities for these Dalit women. Neither has it given the Dalit children an atmosphere of learning at home. According to Ghosh (1997), Dalits contribution in the economic sphere can be categorized as artisan and service sectors. The artisan sectors are engaged in cultural activities. They play drums and dance in temple festivals, death houses, etc. But the sen-ice sector activities differ in rural and urban areas.

Table 1. Poverty among Dalits

Rural Poverty Urban Poverty
1983 1993-94 2004-05 1983 1993-94 2004-05
TN-Dalits 67.8 44.4 30.4 69.3 61.5 58.8
TN-All 54.8 32.9 23 50.3 39.9 22.5
India-Dalits 59 48.3 36.8 56.1 49.8 60.2
India-All 46.4 37.2 28.3 42.1 32.6 25.6

Among Dalits, women are still in a disadvantageous position. Their lives are largely circumscribed by their poverty and lack of access to productive resources like land, financial capital and educational qualifications (Shah, 2008). In rural areas, they are engaged in agricultural and allied activities. Especially large number of Dalit women works as agricultural coolies. Rarely Dalits own cultivation lands. As agriculture does not bring the expected harvest, the landowners have leased out their lands. Some of the Dalits have started getting these lands on lease and cultivate. However, most of these women who work as agricultural coolie are physically exploited by the landowners. They are also demanded to do extra household works in the land owner’s house. Being an unorganized sector, they never get any monetary, material or material benefits from them. Devanesam, one of the Dalit Women in Nattarkulam village whose family has leased out land recently feared that they may be trapped in an intense indebtedness and slavery because the agriculture had been failing frequently.

Process of Women Empowerment

While high caste women are struggling to get their rights, the suppressed Dalit women find it much more difficult to assert their rights. For most of them, having basic amenities is a distance dream. Giving them the right to women education and employment can certainly pave the way for their sustainable development and women empowerment. But this process is a tough as many of them are not aware of their enslavement and clutches of oppression. Self-awareness and social conscientization have to be imparted systematically for Dalit women.

Salient Intervention

The UNDP Report indicated that poverty has been retained over the years in India and has been carried over from one generation to the next among the 40 per cent of the rural Dalits population. In order to break this vicious cycle various strategies were adopted. It was believed that microfinance was as a key of empowering tool in ensuring improvements in their income and sustainable household among the world’s poorest families (Malhotra, 2010). It was also perceived that India is fast becoming one of the largest microfinance markets in the world, especially with the growth of women’s savings and credit groups (known in India as ‘Self-Help Groups’ (SHGs) are set to reach 17 million women by 2008. Especially from the Dalit women perspective, there was a need for add-on components for their sustainable development.

Indian Progress towards MDGs

Marginalized Dalit women, are the most unfortunate in free India, are recognized as “Dalit among the Dalits or downtrodden among the downtrodden” (Manorama, 1994, p.159; Nandu, 1998, p.114). Dalit women have to struggle in a very hard male-dominated, deprived society. They were powerless in dealing with their life and experienced helplessness in dealing with their family and social lives. They faced specific problems, which are uncommon to other caste women. They were often alienated even from their fellow-women on account of their caste identity. Economic independence can bring a better prosperity for the women against the ‘feminization of poverty’. Creative use and confident ventures of these women can lead the country for greater growth and development.

Significance of the Study

The experiences of micro credit movement in India has shown that Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are widely used to promote and serve the micro credit needs of the poor women for a sustainable livelihood system. SHGs, which were organized by either Non-Governmental   Organisation   (NGO)   or   Governmental Organisation (GO) had to be linked to the commercial or nationalized banks to get financial assistances. Thus SHGs provide the individual women or women as a group to create assets. It is done based on the strategy to provide each of its member’s opportunity to improve their personal and public life economically. Hence a scientific study on the various variables involved in their women empowerment can enable other parts of the country also to replicate the model and complement the women in achieving third MDG.

Objectives

i) to prepare a profile of the marginalized women in SHGs;

ii)  to examine the performance of the marginalized women groups with micro credit;

iii)  to identify the collaborative agencies and their initiatives in micro credit activities for women;

iv)  to find out factors fostering the marginalized women empowerment;

v)  to suggest  strategies  and action programmes  for empowering the marginalized women.

Methodology

The present study was intended to explore the role of marginalized women and microcredit in achieving the targets put forward by MDGs. It has followed scientific procedure. Adequate references for the study helped to frame the methodology part in a systematic manner. The study compiled theoretical as well as the practical format in the entire step.

Universe

The study was conducted in Trichy, Dindigul and Perambalur districts, i.e. the districts which were holding 7th, 17th and 27th rank in Gender Development Index of Tamil Nadu. The important objective of the study was to assess the saving habits of the target area. Also to study the credit institutions those are helping them to face the day to day problems and addressing the issue of women empowerment; and to suggest better ways of micro credit interventions among marginalized women. The statistical details of the marginalized women who are members of SHGs and beneficiaries of micro credit will be collected from the TamH Nadu Women Development Corporation office at Chennai and the respective district headquarters.

Research and Sample Design

The research design of the study was a participative explorative design. As a type of descriptive research design, it followed both participatory as well as explorative design in carrying out the study. Purposive sampling technique was followed to identify and study the successful micro credit adventures. The statistical details of the marginalized women who are members of SHGs and beneficiaries of micro credit were collected from the Tamil Nadu Women Development Corporation office at Chennai and the respective district headquarters. The samples were collected from the selected districts (Dindigul, Perambalur and Tiruchirapalli). The sample size was fixed by using the statistical measure. The given table will show how the sample size was fixed.

Table 2. Sample Distribution

No District Total Number of Women in SHG Required Sample Size Percent
1 Dindigul 172416 383 33.4
2 Perambalur 55264 382 33.3
3 Trichy 166640 383 33.4
Total 394310 1148 100

With the degree of freedom at 5 and confidence level at 0.05 level, the required sample for the study is 1148 respondents from the three districts. For the stratified random was used to select the respondents from all the three districts.

Description of Tools

Tools like interview schedule compiled with scientific scale and Focused Group Discussion (FGD) were used for collecting primary data from the respondents. They were prepared in consultation with the academic experts and field workers.

Interview Schedule

Interview schedule was a major tool for the collection of data. The schedule contained the demographic details of the respondents, like age, women education, marital status, religion, caste, occupation, details of the family members, income, expenditure statuses etc. It brought about the details associated with the membership in SHG, details of the benefits availed from SHG etc. The interview schedule also consisted a five-point Likert’s scale. The indexes like, SHG Index, Gender Equality Index, Entrepreneurial   Index,   Learning  and  Training  Index, Psychological Women Empowerment, Political Women Empowerment, Economic Women Empowerment, Social Women Empowerment, Environment sustainability index and Social Network index were applied to collect the data from the respondents.

Focus Group Discussion

For collecting the primary data Focused Group Discussion (FDG) were organized. It was held with the significant members of the women’s groups and village leaders in all the three districts. Open-ended questions were included in FGD. Questions like, mode of group functioning, entrepreneur efforts, SHG women problems, viewpoints of the participants, suggestions and recommendations of the respondents for the better functioning of the SHG etc were included. The tool helped to provide opportunity for the respondents to express their viewpoints freely.

Analysis of Data

After the data collection, Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) was used for the analysis of the data and the data was presented in the master charts and excel sheet for easy understanding and analysis. Tables and charts were also used for presenting the data. The inferential statistics such as measures of central tendencies, Karl Pearson’s correlation coefficient and chi-square test were used.

Profile of the Respondents

Among the respondents, 56.4% were in the age group of 36-58 years. 22.7% of the respondents were illiterate and 40.3% had only primary women education. 98.2% of the respondents were married women. 98.3% were belonging to Hindu religion and 1.7% of them were from Christianity. 61.4% of the respondents were belonging to the Parayar community and 31.2% were from Pallar community. There was 6.6.% of respondents from sakkiliyars and 0.8% were from arunthathiyar community. Most their family had an average of 4-6 members. 9.3% of them had small families.

Occupation

Almost 99.2% of the respondents were earning for their livelihood as agricultural coolies. Despite 37.2% of the total respondents having the high school or above high school women education, a remarkable number of them continued their dependence on agriculture. 64.3% of them received a reasonable income from agriculture, whereas 1.8% of them continue to live in chronic poverty.

Changing Life Styles

The study revealed that the economic status of the respondents have significantly improved over the years. It was explicit from their housing structure and the other infrastructure available in their milieu. The women were much convinced of giving quality education to their children. They felt their opinions were received well by the members of the family. Health condition of the respondents needed intense attention. 39.7% of the respondents were reported to have anaemia. They were also infected by malaria and tuberculosis. Family planning method was yet gain popularity in Perambalur district.

Influence of Micro credit

Even illiterate women had the privilege of becoming a member of Self Help Groups. They were able to develop the have habit of savings and avail micro credits from these groups. They were quite happy about their involvement because it gave them social status and dignity. The duration of membership in Self Help Groups had a great impact of the marginalized women. In many villages, the Dalit colony women were reached out much later comparing to their caste women in the villages by the voluntary organizations.

The year of enrolment in SHG was 47.3% during 2008. Among the three districts, Trichy district had earlier enrolment starting in 1999 and at Dindigul, it was in 2000. Over the years, more number of women have joined in SHG. It revealed that more women were attracted to the SHG in recent past after clearing their initial anxiety and uncertainty.

Micro credit of Marginalized Women

Self Help Groups have been reaching out the marginalized women and less developed districts much later than others. The women who had become the members of these micro credit institutions i.e. SHGs have started their monthly savings from Rs 50-100. They had mostly monthly meetings expect few groups on the need basis had more than one meeting. In the meetings, they were free to discuss multilateral issues starting from the personal, family and village issues. The group meetings were largely held in the street.

In the groups where they do the savings, they are liable to take small loans. Among the members there was good rapport and undertaking. It helped them to give the available amount as a micro credit to the fellow women in need. If the group performed well for six months then it was eligible to get the first loans from the banks. They were able to get loans for lower interest. If their performance was still good they were able to get revolving fund (RF) from the bank. The group were able to get loan amount ranging from Rs 25,000 to 200,000. Some of the groups were able to get subsidy loans. 90.8% of the respondents received revolving fund (RF) and 4.1% of them received THADCO loan too. But only 12.4% taken loan for women educational purpose, other received the loans for the needs of the family.

Micro credit Institutions

In some areas, the SHGs itself functioned as a micro credit institution. In other places, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were acting as the micro credit institution. In some groups, the role was taken up by the local banks. In the banks, they were able to get it for lower interest without any surety. Their monthly repayment was done on a regular basis with the repayment varying from Rs.100 to maximum Rs.500. When some of the members were in difficult situation other members were empathetic and they contributed for those women. Later they paid back to the concerned groups.

Achieving Women Empowerment: Role of Marginalized Women and Micro Credit
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