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WE ARE POOR, BUT WE ARE MANY

WE ARE POOR, BUT WE ARE MANY

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. A nation cannot have sustained economic prosperity and well-being until women’s central role is recognized and women’s economic health is used as a measure to shape policy.  

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.

Lata had been a regular figure at our meetings and training programmes. She imbibed the values of thrift and hard work very assiduously and quickly. I didn’t have a chance to visit her home but I came to know she was doing well. One morning I joined Lata on the long ride home to her shack. As we approached, hordes of curious youngsters swarmed around us. Lata steered me into her home, a simple cement structure, with a tiny shrine built into a wall. It had no window, no water, and no electricity. But it was nonetheless meticulously clean, so much so that the floor of beaten earth was just like marble. No one would have dreamed of treading on it without first removing his shoes. As the whole family squeezed inside, Lata’s mother daubed my forehead with purple rice .Lata lopped the top off a fresh coconut, popped in a straw and offered it to me. She then hacked it with a scythe and gathered the cotton white cream in a steel bowl and was keen that I not only taste it but consume the entire bowl.

When it was time for me to leave she wished me namaste (traditional Indian greeting), then grabbed my hand in hers and gave it a tight squeeze. In a barely audible whisper she said -“I am grateful to you for introducing me to group concept   . Now I am on my third loan of Rs 40,000.I am using it myself.  My husband does not take even five rupees from my shop. All the outgoings and incomings I deal with. He pays for our food and clothing from his shop while I have bought things for the house – tape, TV. I have paid to get my son trained as a carpenter   . I am busy enough with my shop and managing the house”

 

Walking down the slums in Dharavi   the first thing one notices are the eateries: there was a woman sitting behind a little propane stove with a round cast-iron griddle roasting omlette on it. Every few minutes someone would walk up to her and order an omlette. She would throw a cupful of the egg yolk on the griddle, sprinkle raw onion onto it and spread it around to cover almost the entire surface and leak some oil from a plastic bottle around the edges of the utensil. A minute or two later, she would slide a circular chapatti like complete , daub it with    sauce and chutney, fold it in a newspaper   and hand it to her client, in return for a rupee(roughly 15 cents   ). . Saroja peels and chops onions, grates coconut, shells peas and makes the flatbread that will be served for dinner. She splashes water on her hands and face and wipes them with the edge of her sari. She pops some bettlenut into her mouth. She takes out the straw mat and lies down on it using a bundle of clothes as a pillow

 

When we walked back down that same street an hour later, the women were gone. We found one inside her house, filling her daughter’s plate with lunch that she had cooked   .She told us that later that day, she was going out to vend her saris, She gets plain nylon saris from Indore or Surat   and stitches beads and glistening sequins on them, and once a week, she takes them from house to house, hoping that women would buy them to wear on special occasions. And they do buy them, she said confidently. All the other women we met that day had a similar story: once they are done frying omlettes, they do something else. Some make pickles or papad to sell; some supply tiffins to office goers; others work as laborers. Petal-soft idlis wrapped in banana leaves and slathered with coconut chutney  Idlis in Maharashtra are hard and don’t possess a tangy sourdough taste.

The community groups have brought these women  in to the fold of inclusive finance which has five legs :

  • The credit history for the bank to check – which means that there were credit bureaus that were tracking and scoring my every expense and repayment, and evaluating that behavior to assess whether or not the client was a good bet.
  • A bank account to link my credit cards to.
  • The financial capability – the skills, attitudes, and behaviors ;one needed to manage  y personal finances – to look responsible enough under the bank’s microscope.
  • A bank – one of many in the area – that competed for one’s business.
  • A raft of regulations protecting the client ,deposit insurance ,consumer protection legislation.

And that’s just the start. When   promoting financial inclusion  , we often refer to trying to develop an “ecosystem,” but it’s clear that that’s not the right analogy – it’s really an entire universe unto itself.

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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