Bringing Women into the Forefront

Creating Solutions

7000 marginalised women organised into 500 Self Help Groups (SHGs) in 130 villages covering Minjur and Sholavarm blocks of Tiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu, demonstrates the encouragement and support given by CRUSADE to the rural women. These women have stood as pillars for propelling the growth and stability of their own as well the community.

CRUSADE carried out a sample survey in 2009 to find out the progress of the members of SHGs who are involved in economic activities. A simple questionnaire was given to around 1500 members in 100 groups. The findings are:

  • Around 18.5 per cent (1218) women are fully employed, half of them self-employed.
  • Nearly 10 per cent (649) are in part time self-employment.
  • About 47.5 per cent (3120) are involved in agricultural labour work or in National Employment programme
  • Around 24 per cent (1571) are not engaged in work, but look after the house due to old age, health status or having small children to look after.

CRUSADE addresses the crucial needs of these poor rural women through the following activities:

  • Forms self-help groups among poor rural women
  • Builds their capacity through training and exposure
  • Links the groups with banks for their various credit needs
  • Mobilises Government schemes meant for women groups
  • Conducts skill training to widen their job opportunities
  • Encourages them to take up self employment to generate income
  • Provides health & nutrition education resulting in early treatment
  • Motivates the women to participate in local Panchayat elections

Self-help groups sow the seeds of hope

Poverty is mostly experienced bitterly by women – they become helpless, voiceless targets. CRUSADE believes that if women are organised, made aware, and equipped with right skills they can use the power and potential that is in them to overcome obstacles and poverty. Therefore, CRUSADE identifies poor Dalit women, who are poverty stricken, yet eager to create opportunities, to join the self-help groups to bring in a change in their lives.

The formed groups are federated into Cluster, Panchayat and Project level for sustaining the structures and activities.

Each cluster is managed by a female organizer, who is often recruited among the SHG leaders to ensure continuity and sustainability.

Each block has an Association of SHGs which comprise of around 30 members each who are SHG leaders from villages. Both associations are represented in the registered Trust – Pudumai Pengal Iyakkam (PPI). The Trust represents all the groups in the project area. The Trust has nine members which takes all major decisions. The SHGs joining the association have to pay an annual fee of Rs 100 as administration cost to get the services of the Trust.

Crusade believes that when women benefit, they share their benefits with the families and invest in the community.

The main activity centres around two elements – savings and credit. Credit being one of the acute felt needs of the members, loans available at an interest fixed by the group itself, is welcomed by the village women. Without the support of these SHGs, for any emergency, women were at the mercy of money lenders, paying exorbitant rate of interest.

The women come together at the meetings to address issues that affect not only their own members, but also others in the larger community. The joint meetings at village level with all group members help to resolve problems of the groups. The problems which defies solution at village level are taken to Panchayat Level Federations. This has raised their social status and decision making power.

Encouraging and helping these women to form groups, initiate savings and lend money has helped the poor families keep their livelihood going, their self-esteem intact, and their hopes alive.

Learning simple accounts to maintain transparency

CRUSADE trains the members of the groups on several issues for their effective functioning and sustainability. Group leaders are trained to maintain the accounts to reflect transparency and credibility. Most of the groups maintain their records and prepare monthly financial statement of the groups. Accounts of SHGs are audited annually either internally or externally by a Chartered Accountant depending on the volume of transaction.

Establishing pathway to empowerment

To bring in overall development among the women, CRUSADE organises various trainings. These include:

  • Gender equality
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Legal awareness
  • Awareness on Goverment Benefits
  • Environmental sanitation

This programme has given the women the confidence, build communal harmony and minimize the effects of the caste system.

With the support of the group, they get a platform to express their solidarity with each other. The economic power and group support give them dignity and bargaining power in the society.

CRUSADE engages its staff and external subject specialists to train Cluster and Federation Leaders to address the above issues and build the capacity of the women.

Women learn skills and generate income

CRUSADE, through its initiative PPI, provides loans to the members, who shows an interest to start a small business. Initial assessment of the need of the member is done by CRUDSADE staff with the support of the cluster leader. After satisfying themselves, the loan is given by PPI with repayment rules clearly explained to the borrowing member.

For the rural women, accessing loans to start an income generating activity with minimal interest is a distance dream. Lack of financial support, training and domestic problems are the main causes for these deprived women. However, with the support of the SHGs, PPI’s Micro Credit Schemes, training and encouragement, women are able to demonstrate positive progress.

Read our Stories to learn the varied nature of enterprises women are involved, the positive results achieved and the transformation the women have had.

Association members of CRUSADE. Strong leaders have emerged from this group. PPI Trustees are selected from this group.

The loan has made a big difference," Porselvi says. "My family's standard of living is much better than before. It is good to have a steady job close to home, because I have children to look after. I am there for my children whenever they need me.”

Men has begun to change their attitude. They respect women now. Women’s voice is being heard. Men seem to value the extra income that women contribute to the household.