In love with rural India, Akansha Yadav is a Bangalore based welfare policy analyst who writes here of a meeting. One where women manage the money.
Revenue & planning meetings, scoping, loan requirements, financial analysis, board room conferences, monthly/quarterly reviews – these are terms you would generally hear in the corporate world, right? Our visual sensehas a specific connect with these images – air-conditioned conference halls, mineral water bottles, and high-tea menu with formally clad business folk.
Cut to Gumla District, Jharkhand, where I was able to transform this perception of mine. While conducting training sessions for social audits for the Special Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana (SGSY), I was invited to the annual district level federation meeting of women Self-help Groups (SHGs). They are the main vehicle to implement this scheme. They called this annual meeting mahadiveshan..
Annual District level meeting or Mahadiveshan – the ladies with the mic are narrating their annual achievements along with the role play by the members sitting next to them
Readers who have travelled to Jharkhand or are familiar with it would know it is a young, newly formed state with an even younger institution of Panchayat Raj. A high tribal population, very low on most development indicators (particularly gender equality). So it was particularly heartening to see how these women have come together to take control of their finances and catalyse a rather successful implementation of the Special SGSY.
The SHGs have been established since the year 2000 in the state. In the block division where I went, it was present in 12 out of 18 gram panchayats, 58 revenue villages and 166 tolas (hamlets). 291 of these SHGs which included 4248 ladies were further brought together to form cluster level federations. If you are wondering why I am narrating these numbers, that’s because it is a huge achievement for these women, where like anyplace else in the world, they have not been included at parity in the whole economic development narrative, leave alone financial inclusion.
In the form of these federations, not only do they handle the operations part of the scheme, they work at it like skilled business women, to catalyse sustainable livelihood activities. There are projects for both land-owning and landless people under the scheme. These ladies ensure that no one gets preferential treatment and community members work as partners and participate in all stages of decision-making. In the process of mapping out the terrain, they proactively resolve issues related to land and allocation of irrigation structures for agriculture, setting the tone for a more socially inclusive and environmentally sound policy implementation.
Almost every family I met and saw had at least four to six children, with the older siblings not more than seven-eight years of age taking care of the younger ones. Within a month of delivery, mothers go back to the field with the infant tied to their back, as they do not have luxury of maternity leave! While this project provides critical leadership opportunities and scope for women to handle finances and execute large scale projects by organizing themselves and taking charge, it is still a far cry from addressing the unpaid care issues.
The SHGs emphasis on savings, financial discipline and overall management made me question the set notions we have planted in our heads. These groups are continuously training and organizing more women in nearby villages to form similar groups, giving them exposure to their own achievements, aspiring to do better. The fact that 231 out of these 291 SHG’ groups are computer literate who preside over weekly meetings, taking stock of balance accounts from local accountants is another achievement. These 231 groups have savings accounts in a few of the nationalized banks, and so far have managed savings of Rs. 2.3 crore. Of which Rs. 80 lakh is with the bank; more than 19 lakh is available for borrowing with them and Rs. 1.8 crore is floating among members as loans. The interest obtained is about 45 lakh, which is distributed amongst the members every year in the month of March.
She is the chairperson of PEC, explaining my team & I, the process of financial disbursements and record maintenance
Apart from handling this exorbitant amount of money, they have also come together to create awareness about alcohol addiction and problems associated with that through rallies and workshops – an issue which affects almost every household in this area. Alongside, they take similar initiatives for raising awareness on education, health, employment, and rights and entitlements through meetings and exhibitions. The purpose of this whole endeavor is to develop women’s economic health and social status, a victim in the otherwise larger regressive patriarchal set-up.
Watching them talk about quarterly revenue and planning at the district level meetings (in as many words!) left me awe-struck. These meetings, unlike what you may think, were held under a peepal tree, verdant surroundings, on a bamboo chatai (mat),with a pair of bulls hulling the rice nearby. The purpose was the same- analyzing last quarter’s progress and prepare a development plan for next one, discussion on members’ progress etc.,
Meeting to discuss quarterly report – the program execution or committe or PEC as it is known
In the mahadiveshan, dressed in white sarees, these women celebrated their annual achievements with dances, some even danced with their young ones tied at the back. They were doing what all big corporate and governments do, but with a cheerful demeanour and celebrations all around.
Mahadiveshan celebrations. Do not miss the infant tied to the back of one of the performing members
In a country which boasts of great policies but poor implementation, these development leaders can certainly show the way.