As members of her collective plan to celebrate International Women’s Day, Kuwarben Rana, a Divyang woman from Vadnagar village of Kodinar administrative block, Gir Somnath District, reflects on the progress she has made despite her physical challenges. Determined to be financially independent, she started her own business to sell readymade clothes for women, from the paltry space of her kuccha house.
“I joined the mandali a year ago with the intent of saving every month; but with no constant or my own source of income it was getting difficult to continue the regular deposit,” said Kunwarben, recollecting the earlier days when she had not even thought of starting a business. “In my family there is no one who has a regular job or an assured source of income.”
The Sorath Mahila Vikas Mandali, a women-run cooperative consisting of self-help groups (SHGs), has been creating income generating avenues for women. (See Women’s cooperative introduces insurance during pandemic and Women in Gir stand up for dignity of widows)
The mandali (federation) strives to effect changes in the lives of more women each year with loan and credit facilities for those in need. It is made possible through the active engagement and meetings of the women members of the mandali from over 39 villages, with the help of cluster coordinators.
For Kunwarben Rana, a physically challenged person, it was a desire to educate her children that motivated her to join the savings group and go on to build her own business. For many women like Kunwarben, a sense of realization of economic liberty spurs them on.
“I took loan from the SHG for about Rs 50,000 and started this shop for readymade blouses, petticoats and sarees. With the income generated through sale of these clothes, I am able to repay the loan and support my children’s education,” Kunwarben said with pride.
With her growing confidence and knack for learning further, she uses a smartphone in her work. She learned its use initially from Internet Saathi, a joint initiative of Google and Tata Trusts, to develop digital literacy among rural women. It was implemented by women members of Sorath Mahila Vikas Mandali.
Lakshmiben Solanki of Damli village in Kodinar administrative block has built her own readymade clothes business and tailoring work. She shares, “I joined the SHG 13 years ago, regularly saving Rs 50 per month which is now Rs 100,” she said. “Beyond savings we realized we could create a livelihood for steadier income.”
Lakshmiben has four children and she feels strongly about the importance of educating her wards. To enable their learning and supportive environment, she chose to create income enhancing capacities. “I learned tailoring in the classes that the federation conducted,” she said. “To put to use what I learned, I started my own shop to sell readymade women’s clothes with a loan of Rs 1 lakh.”
During lockdown, businesses were bogged and income dwindled. “As always I got support from my mandali as they helped me get bulk orders for masks for nearby company workers,” she said. She can now prepare a batch of over 900 masks in day. “It made me realize with true zest and interest we can get through even in tough times with support and skill.”
“Women in this region have realized the need of income generation and sought ideas, skills and they thrive on learning, just like myself as an example,” said Varshaben Rathod, cluster coordinator of SHGs under the Sorath Mandali.
The women have regular meetings for saving purposes, but with each meeting as they share concerns of everyday life, they also discuss social progress. The thought germinates through support, the ambition to learn and progress towards their goal of financial freedom.
Financial assistance is one of the many aspects by which women of this region continue to break taboos. When they earn, they build on their confidence and establish encouraging examples for the next generation.
This fact is reflected in the findings of an ongoing research on the implementation and effectiveness of Internet Saathi program in Kodinar and Dahod blocks of Gujarat. The report says “in the gap of one generation, women are literate and have ambitious young women who pursue higher education and skill building programs.”
There are various examples like of Kuwarben Rana and Lakshmiben Solanki in different villages of Kodinar block, whose first step to financial freedom is to connect with more like-minded women. They gather and learn each time to cultivate and welcome new ideas.
Sorath Mahila Vikas Mandali, a registered federation and licensed with a cooperative, continues to grow as a dynamic platform for banking. Rural women have learned to create and run their own accounts and strengthen the community of over 5,000 women.
“We have been celebrating Women’s Day on 8 March for some years now and for this year’s theme we have announced Women and Hygiene and there will be counselling sessions with doctors on the same,” said Motiben Chavda, president of the federation. “The past year has taught us more about health due to lockdown and covid scare.”
Given the pandemic situation, the women would not be gathering at one place but in all the nine clusters in small groups, so that they can maintain social distancing norms. Hence the programs would be extended over a week, women’s week as they call it. Coming together on International Women’s Day not only helps the women to reflect on their past achievements but to work collectively towards furthers progress.
Palak Gosai is Managing Editor of VillageSquare and Manager-Communications at Transform Rural India Foundation. Views are personal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org