China and Neighbourhood

Women’s Empowerment through Self-help Groups and its Impact on Health Issues: Empirical Evidence

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  • Introduction

Why lend to women rather than to men? Nobel laureate Prof. Yunus is of the view that if the goals of economic development include improved standard of living, removal of poverty, access to dignified employment and reduction of inequality then it is quite natural to start with women. They constitute the majority of the poor, the under employed and the economically and socially disadvantaged. Hunger and poverty are more women’s issues than male issue. Women experience hunger and poverty in much more intense ways than men. If one of the family members has to starve, it is an unwritten law that it has to be the mother. They are very close to children. When a destitute starts making some income, her dream invariably centre on her children. He also finds that traditional banks in Bangladesh are gender biased and do not want to lend money to women. Moreover, “a development reason to favor women”, he says, “the more, I got involved, the more I realised that credit given to women brought about changes faster than when given to men”.

womens_empowermentHow does credit given to women bring about changes to women? The theme of Microcredit Summit, 1997, stressed on two issues to bring about changes to women: of reaching women and empowering them. Most of the self-help groups (SHGs) that are formed under current microcredit initiatives are those of women. There is no doubt about the fact that, given the current systems of microcredit, women have access to credit. However, empowerment is not dependent on mere access but on control of both the credit and the use to which that credit is put. Access does not automatically include control. While evaluating the effect of microfinance programme on women empowerment, several studies yield mixed results. Some are in favour of the argument of the ability of microfinance to induce a process of economic, political and social empowerment whereas others, being more skeptical, point to a deterioration of women’s overall well-being.

The term ‘Microcredit’ has been defined by the Microcredit Summit (1997) as “programmes that provide credit for self-employment and other finance and business services (including savings and technical assistance) to very poor persons” (Microcredit Summit, 1997, Draft Declaration and Plan of Action). The term microcredit, microfinance and microenterprise finance are used almost interchangeably in these days. Though they appear as connoting largely similar meanings, the theoretical perspectives underlying each of these terms can be interpreted to be distinct. The ‘microcredit’ evidently suggests the predominance of ‘debt’ or lending, while ‘microfinance’ points to a context wherein both credit and savings are involved.

As to women’s empowerment – defined, measured and observed in a multitude of ways, generally the effects of the programme are largely positive. Moreover, women use a more substantial part of their income for health and education of their children. They also play a very important role in reducing poverty within households. Many impact studies conclude that those participating in microfinance programme are more likely to invest in their children’s education and better nutrition and health practices than those not participating8.In this perspective based on an empirical study in West Bengal, this paper tries to measure the level of empowerment of women participating in the microcredit programme through SHGs under different criteria – power, autonomy and self-reliance, entitlement, participation and awareness and capacity-building – and to examine the effect of empowerment of women participating in SHG programme on their children’s nutritional status and protein-intake of their households. The study suggests that if women participating in the microcredit programme through SHGs sustain for some longer period (eight years or more), such a programme might contribute to higher level of women’s empowerment than women’s empowerment under all types of control groups of this study. This paper also finds that women’s earnings from saving and credit have positive and significant effect on nutritional status of the children of women members of SHGs and on the protein-intake for their household level compared with that of among control group. In order to examine the particular objective, this paper will test the following.1) the average empowerment level of women(the procedure of measurement appears in methodology section) participating in microcredit programme for eight years or more , who are called core group/policy group of this paper(Women SHGs participating under microcredit programme for eight years or more under SHG-NGO and SHG-Non-NGO models selected for study are called core group or policy group.), is higher for both NGO-led and Non-NGO- led programme in relation to the empowerment level of women among all control groups (supporting groups), and no perceptible difference is expected at the level of empowerment of women between NGO and non-NGO led programmes under core group. 2) Empowerment of women participating in the microcredit programme through SHGs has a significant positive effect on their children’s nutritional status and protein-intake of their households.

  • Relevance in West Bengal

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* Published in Journal of Global Analysis Vol. 2 No.1 – 2011

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