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REJUVENATING THE FEMALE ECONOMY

 If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman

-Margaret Thatcher

Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have got a little, it is often easy to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little.

–Adam Smith, the Wealth of Nations

We live in a world in which women living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice from birth to death. From poor education to poor nutrition to vulnerable and low pay employment, the sequence of discrimination that a woman may suffer during her entire life is unacceptable but all too common. Societies that invest in and empower women are on a virtuous cycle. They become richer, more stable, better governed, and less prone to fanaticism.

In India, community groups set up in villages and slums to tackle specific problems are known as self-help groups. It needs great emotional intensity to break through age old barriers .This can possible only through groups who share the same emotional values and are driven by   strong impulses of mutual goals. One of the primary objectives is of course to avail loans which the women access by cross guaranteeing each other’s liability. These loans are part of a financial philosophy called microfinance  When we place capital in the hands of women, especially low-income women, who don’t have access to loans through traditional means it works wonders – unlocking her entrepreneurial impulses.  We help empower not just women, but the communities in which they live. When women are reached, they gain the courage and skills to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.   We create the most powerful catalyst for lasting social change

Women represent 50 per cent of the world population but when it comes to their perspectives being heard on various forums, they are more often than not invisible spectators, even in matters that effect them. Women can bring different ideas to the table, which benefit economy and society. In my microfinance journey, we have served thousands of women at the base of the social pyramid giving them access to financial services without asking for any formal collateral. Women proved to be responsible and dynamic in their approach. They began earning, planning and investing back into their families.  .  Providing investment capital for additional income generation   unlocks their capacity   to solve many, if not all, of the manifestations of poverty that affect their lives The poor are no different from other small entrepreneurs in that managerial advice and access to business networks can make the difference between success and failure. Services alone are not enough. Quality services are also indispensable for improving the well-being and empowerment of the poor. Indeed, services should be affordable and appropriate for the people they are designed to serve.

They should be delivered with customer needs and safety as paramount considerations and with the transfer of skills (financial capabilities) for their use.

More than a decade back back when I was actively associated with financial programmes for vilage women,   reaching out to people who lived in remote areas was not easy. Long distances, deeply rutted dirt roads and washed out bridges separated the rural poor from programs that could help them improve their standard of living. Yet the need was great: Families in rural India did not only have larger households, fewer assets and less education than their urban counterparts, but 90 percent of them also lacked access to financial services. Things have changed a great deal now. We have better connectivity, better roads and improved literacy    among women.

I have witnessed how access to finance has gradually transformed them. Women who had so far been diffident and withdrawn  gradually shed their earlier reticence and stepped out of the four walls of their homes to acquire an identity of their own.   Their concern for development fluttered everywhere. The heroic stories of tenacious women scripting tales of economic success are great signs of a brighter tomorrow. I found that women had furrowed the male-dominated power-grid in villages and self help groups were heaving up the whole foundation.  Beginning in the benign area of health, the women slowly gained confidence and moved on to other social areas .they began asking for change from the bus conductor, demanded the presence of a school teacher and expected proper services from village officials.

Women who are in charge of their incomes tend to:

  • Manage household incomes more efficiently than men;
  • Make their own fertility decisions and have less children;
  • Make gender-equitable decisions regarding their children’s nutrition and schooling;
  • Engage in sustainable land use practices

.Collectives of grassroots women organized around savings-credit and microenterprise do exist, but building women’s perspectives in the context of decentralized planning, development, and reforms in the sector of water, health, and education is an area that needs a lot of attention. If a “critical mass” of well-informed women’s groups and poor communities can be encouraged to participate in the development reforms, their concerns can become central to the planning process.

. If you visit Warora today, you will find that life is far different from what it was a few years ago. Not substantially richer, no—there is still drought, no industry, only rain-dependent agriculture—but better. Warora’s villages have clean water, and many have pipes carrying that water to a pump in every backyard. Most houses have soak pits, a simple and cheap drainage system dug outside every house that eliminates standing wastewater; they are moving on to toilets.

In an area nearly barren of trees, Warora’s villages have planted millions. The government’s afforestation plans supported by dollops of aid have given a fillip to the greening of barren lands, and helped in restoring the health of the environment. There are several incidental benefits, better rainfall patterns, improvement in the quality of soils and food security. Dalits are less oppressed and upper caste women are free to leave the confines of their homes. Women are better educated and more interested in educating their girls. The fact that most credit being given is used for consumption and not for income-generation purposes is not necessarily an indictment of development finance. Consumption can go overboard if the credit is taken to finance a lavish wedding. But a lot of micro-borrowing goes into paying school fees because the borrower can’t afford the lump sum fees, paying for medical services, etc. Offering timely credit to a poor woman whose son needs medical attention is an important benefit in terms of the livelihood that is created.

Several factors converge to sometimes make poverty almost inescapable. Often the cycle is transmitted from generation to generation .One formula which most present programmes embrace is investment in   health and education of children. It is easier to build a strong child than to repair broken men and women.  A compelling message   is that if we want to chip away at poverty there’s no magic bullet, that helping people is much harder than it looks. A lot of good programs got their start when one individual looked at a familiar landscape in a fresh way. But several of these programmes were difficult to scale up. We increasingly have the tools to combat it. We know what to do if we just can summon the political will.

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