The involvement of women in the workforce has several benefits. It leads to economic and social empowerment of women, and also improves economic productivity in the long run. In India, participation of women in the labour force is extremely low – only 29% of all Indian women in the working age group are willing to work. However, in some parts of rural India this number can go as low as 9%. This is despite communities having high graduation rates among women.A LokSabha MP from rural constituency in Eastern India requested support to address this challenge and create better and more sustainable livelihood opportunities for women.
Swaniti’sresponse to the problem
The Swaniti Fellows began by analyzing the root cause behind the poor labour force participation among women. As they interacted with multiple stakeholders, including women and the prospective employersthey realized that creating opportunities for self-employment was the best way to tackle the problem. However, this had several roadblocks, such as i) lack of access to capital due to inadequate -banking facilities; ii) excessive paperwork required for registration of women self-help groups (SHGs); iii) mismanagement of funds available under government sponsored self-employment schemes like National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM); and finally, iv) underdeveloped markets which did not provide sufficient returns for articles produced by SHGs.
Swaniti, in consultation with the MP decided to work on the issue by scaling up women’s cooperative credit societies. Such societies work on the basis of regular monetary savings by a group of individuals (in this case, women) who then lend back to their members. Such a system ensures greater transparency as there is community involvement in the operation of such a society. It also enhances the access to capital required for self-employment. Further, the chances of loan defaults are reduced due to the role of peer pressure in such cooperatives. Swaniti came across one such cooperative which covers more than 1120 SHG participants across 82 villages.
The Swaniti team decided to scale up this model. They worked from the block level starting with the 2 blocks. The first step was to raise awareness about cooperative credit societies by engaging local women. They worked with the Panchayats and local leadership to schedule seminars. The local cooperative credit society was also asked to share its experience and success stories through such seminars.
Swaniti conducted several such seminars in both Shyampur and Udaynarayanpur, with an average audience size of 80. They received an enthusiastic response from participants and crucially, the team secured buy-ins from all stakeholders at such seminars. Swaniti also assisted in setting up of 2 additional self-help groups (SHGs) which provided employment opportunities to 50 more women. An increased access to capital worth Rs 5,00,000 was made possible due to Swaniti’s efforts at engaging different stakeholders, including the MP.