Discernments of various research on SHG reflect a great deal of increment in uptake of women in self reliant programs. Muskanben and her group is one such bloc among many other women working as seamstresses, artisans, vendors, and marginal farmers in the informal sector who sailed its way through the doldrums of lockdown after acquiring training in digital skills provided by the self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
The training in digital skills imparted by SEWA came to Muskanben and other crafts persons as a means to scale up their earnings as they obtained the basic knowledge of showcasing their product online along with learning how to use the digital payment interface for online transactions against purchases which helped them broaden their customer base on Facebook and Instagram.
According to Reema Nanavaty SEWA’s Director, “Leelawati project proved timely. When we first launched it, traditional occupations were being buffeted by globalization, liberalization and other economic changes. Little did we realize how useful the training would become during the pandemic.”
Many of them are now well acquainted with cashless payments through PayTm, the BHIM App, and Google Pay rather than meeting people, handling cash and risking infections.
Instilling the sense of Independence
According to one estimate over 80 million women have taken part in such SHG programs in India alone. Women in the program believed on average that their access to interesting work had improved. Being part of the program builds a sense of independence among women in regular social activity which in turns develops the individual social resources and capital of participants.
Understanding the problems at grassroot level SEWA has been able to link its members through videoconferences, when rural families found it difficult to access basic groceries, SEWA coordinated with an agro-produce supply chain to provide them with essentials at fair prices. Even today, SEWA’s leaders and coordinators meet virtually every week, joining in from households, from fields, or even while they are out and about in their villages.
According to Junaid Ahmad, the World Bank’s Country Director for India, “Digital financial inclusion was a development priority for India even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is indispensable.”
“Through this program, our effort has been to open up new livelihood opportunities for poor rural women, promote women-led entrepreneurship and accelerate a national shift towards the greater inclusion of women in the workforce,” he added.
Rise in popularity of self-help groups programs suggests a potential to address a range of development priorities with the involvement of the beneficiaries themselves.Promoting such programs can certainly yield monetary and societal benefits in rural areas.
Cover image by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)