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Financial Independence

In this region, women often have no say in decisions regarding the finances of their family. They have always worked to contribute to sustaining their family – whether in the fields or by doing work paid for by the government (e.g .MGNREGA) or by commercial employers. But they have had little or no control over where the family money goes. Women who have been deserted or forced to leave the matrimonial home commonly have nothing.

With limited income, families are forced to borrow to pay for healthcare (emergency or otherwise), social obligations (such as a child’s wedding) or investment necessary to increase or safeguard the family’s livelihood (e.g. buying better farm equipment or land, putting in irrigation, setting up a brick-making business). In the area we work in, where banks are generally far away, largely unsupportive and daunting to rural, especially tribal,

people, credit is often only available through moneylenders who target tribal women and offer credit at extortionate rates (frequently 60-120% p.a., with crippling monthly payments). Many women are forced to pawn their precious jewellery, which is seen as the only kind of realisable asset these rural people have. Reclaiming it is, once again, only possible at high rates of interest.

As a response to these problems, Seva Mandir has helped women to set up Self-Help Groups in the villages. These allow women to save regularly and receive credit which is controlled collectively with their friends and colleagues at a much more affordable rate (1-2% monthly). We have also introduced a number of livelihood opportunities to enable women to earn more for their families. These include growing flowers, rearing poultry, sewing or setting up shops. (See Rural Livelihoods and Current Projects)
Many women work as Balwadi Sanchalikas, Balsakhis, Shiksha Kendra teachers, Residential Learning Camp teachers, field workers and administrative staff in Seva Mandir’s offices. This adds to their security, confidence, status in their own communities and financial independence.


Impact

Financial independence for women is life-changing, giving them the ability to make independent decisions for themselves and their family. Since the SHGs’ creation, over 10,000 women have been given access to affordable credit and saving schemes. As a result, SHGs have accumulated more than INR 116 million (approximately USD 1.6 million) which is available to support women further. Evidence from the SHGs has shown that 84% of SHG loans were used for expenses related to health, education, debt repayments and livelihoods.

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