Some self-help - and tribal women mean business

 Banswara: They set out to work in their `offices`, dabble in numbers with ease and bring home more money than their husbands. The fact that they are illiterate tribal women in obscure Rajasthan villages does not dampen their shimmering entrepreneurial dreams.
It all started with the coming together of some women who formed self-help groups (SHGs). Now the self-help movement is an over 1,000- strong army with a presence in 24 villages in Banswara district`s Sednani area.

These women sell seeds, own poultry businesses, make incense sticks and beauty products, besides doing conventional sewing and stitching activities. They gather at `chaupals` to hold meetings.

After being subservient to their husbands and lending a helping hand in labour work all their lives, these women in Banswara district are breaking the glass ceiling and ushering in prosperity in the area.

"Some NGOs working for tribal women`s development had called a meeting here to float the idea of self-help groups a few months ago. But when our families came to know that women will go out and be involved in earning money, they protested," Rampyari Devi, a woman associated with SHG Navjyoti, told IANS.

The first meeting was attended by the women`s family members.

"Somehow, the men were convinced. After that, like a revolution, women started joining self-help groups," she added. The group has set up poultry farms and supply chicken products.
These groups are democratically formed and elect their own leaders. The modus operandi is that women pool in their small savings, and then use it among themselves.

Another woman, Likhma Devi, says, "The women are now earning about Rs.6,000-7,000 every month, which in most cases is more than what men in the area earn."

She says about 80 women have so far gone to state capital Jaipur to acquire training in various fields. Different government departments and NGOs are providing training to these SHGs.

Rampyari, who is part of an SHG, said with money coming in, the lifestyle of villagers has started to change.

"Earlier things like television sets were available in very few a lot of houses in my village have TVs and that too with satellite receivers," she added with pride.

The migration of tribal families from the area has also stopped due to their improved standard of living.

"Earlier, tribal families had to migrate to other parts of the state and nearby states like Gujarat for a particular period every year. But this has stopped now, due to which children are getting steady education," said Sukanya Joshi, an NGO worker.

Likhma Devi echoes similar views. "My life has changed...I am illiterate but after I started to earn money I started sending my children to school," she said.

There are 21 SHGs in the district, some 550 km from Jaipur. The groups have been named after female deities of Hindu religion like Parvati and Saraswati and Bharatmata.

"The tribal women, most of them illiterate, run them like corporate houses. They have learnt skills, including auditing and accounting required for running the business. Most of the products are sold in urban or semi-urban areas besides for local consumption," Joshi added.