Over 40% of the population of India belongs to the economically poor/ weaker sections of society and a large majority of this number live in urban slums. The more marginalized among these hold menial jobs, working as coolie labourers, vegetable vendors or domestic workers. Theirs is a hand-to-mouth existence, with the household managed in large part by the women. With large families and/or high incidence of alcoholism among their menfolk, the women often resort to borrowing from moneylenders at heavy interest rates (interest upto Rs.20 for every Rs.100 lent). Banks are unwilling to lend money to the poor and even pawnbrokers demand security. Though the government has made financial inclusion a priority agenda, accessible savings systems and credit facilities are still very much out of reach of the poor, particularly in slum communities.
Empowerment is a crucial component of any attempt to tackle the root of poverty.
The Self Help Group (SHG) program is designed to provide the poor with access to savings and credit systems, seeking to catalyse that process of empowerment through stimulating economic change within the lives of the group members.
APSA started the Self Help Group (SHG) program in October 1999 in 5 slums primarily because the formal banking system did not consider the poor a good credit risk. The program provided a means to the urban poor to get out of the clutches of moneylenders, provide them with access to savings and credit and educate people to cut down on borrowing for wasteful expenditure. Micro-credit or SHG programs were seen to be successful in rural areas, so APSA thought of extrapolating these learnings to SHGs in urban areas.
Each SHG has between 10-15 members. Monthly meetings are held where members collect their savings and pay loan dues. Discussions at the SHG meetings are not restricted to only thrift and credit but extend to other areas of the women’s lives – children, family problems, incidents of domestic violence, civic issues (water or sanitation problems, bad roads, no electricity, etc.). They are thus able to collectively negotiate with the government on some of these issues.
Capacity building programs through training is organized by APSA for its SHGs on various topics such as book-keeping, budgeting, accessing credit and bank linkages, government welfare schemes, gender rights and addressing issues of gender-based violence in the community, personal development, health and hygiene, child rights and child protection structures and legal rights. The quality of life of these women, their children and families has improved with better access to information, facilities and benefits.
The experience of APSA’s SHG program over the last 15 years has been extremely positive. APSA’s SHG intervention has resulted in:
In India, the third largest market for alcoholic beverages in the world, alcohol consumption has increased over the past decades on account of changing social norms in urban areas, increased stress of work, higher disposable income, and peer pressure. This phenomenon is seen across classes and in fact, increasing among the poor in slums. Increasingly, drinking is leading to gender-based violence (GBV) in both private and public places. Gender-based violence is one of the country’s pervasive social problems and over 80% of GBV cases can be attributed to alcohol. Alcohol use by men is also definitely a factor in aggravating GBV and unsafe sexual practices – both of which affect women and children, in particular girl children.
The Soukhya project was initiated in 2013 (year) by APSA, Breakthrough and the St. John’s Hospital Research Institute to empower women from urban slums combat gender-based violence in their families and community. More often than not, women are unable to resist physical abuse by their spouses or other members due to the ‘culture of silence’ not just among women victims, but in society as a whole due to the cultural conditioning that it is women’s fate or karma, or that what happens within the four walls of the home should remain inside.
As such, under the Soukhya project, APSA brought together 40 SHG members who underwent a Training of Trainers (ToT) on addressing domestic violence in communities. The ToT included information on awareness to domestic violence issues, recognizing signs and addressing the issue through counselling and conflict management.
These 40 ‘super-trainers’ have further trained more than 600 women in slum communities on addressing domestic violence in their homes and families.