International Women’s Day theme for this year is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world”. This write-up on the eve of the occasion is to have a glance at the women Self Help Group (SHGs) in Meghalaya while trying to acknowledge their efforts and contribution to society. As per the existing data, the number of SHGs is 29,083. At present, there are 22,158 SHGs active in Meghalaya These SHGs has tremendously improved the economic condition of rural women. The poorest families in most rural areas have always been excluded and marginalised in the process of rural development. The women from this section of society have come together through these SHGs. Women’s participation in the developmental process is seen as a desirable one to bring changes and development in any society.
Self Help Groups are small groups normally formed by poor people consisting of 10 to 20 members. It is an association or body of people which is homogeneous in nature and has a common aim whose members in one way or the other help one another. They are participative in character with the principle of cooperation and joint endeavour to fight against social ills as much as for thrift and mobilization of financial assistance (Jha, 2012). In India, the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997 – 2002) introduced the SHGs model as a core strategy to achieve empowerment with the objective to organise women into Self Help Groups that may be a major process of women empowerment (Planning Commission 1997). The origin of Self Help Groups (SHGs) is in the hindrance in the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, is the brainchild of Noble laureate Mohammed Yunus2 in 1975. The success story of Grameen Bank attracts the attention of Nations all over the world to reduce their poverty and to change the socio-economic status of women. Motivated by this success story the NABARD in India initiated the effort to introduce the SHGs bank linkage programme in 1991-92.
Women SHGs constitute mostly those from the rural poor families and have benefited its members in many uncountable numbers of ways over the years. SHGs are seen to be one of the major programmes of poverty alleviation in India and over the years they have been instrumental in empowerment by enabling women to work together in the collective agency in accelerating their rights in various services related to their economic and social welfare. The State Coordinator for SHGs (n.d.) in its quarterly newsletter on the SHGs movement in Meghalaya highlights the successful stories of the SHGs in the State that the unemployment problem of the rural poor is possible to overcome through the involvement in SHGs with the income-generating activities. This is possible by providing income-generating skills which have boosted up the member’s morale and self-confidence. Further, the report brings to light that the SHG movement has not only inculcated a sense of self-pride, self-sufficiency and confidence in the members but has also transformed the ‘once purposeless members of a community into a group that has a voice and respect within the village setup’. The activities that were carried out by SHGs are relief and development work, micro-enterprise development, health, integrated development, community capacity building, etc. which shown a successful example of Income Generating Activities (IGAs).
Meghalaya has many successful stories of SHGs as mentioned in Megh Self Help. These successful stories of women SHGs range from Ginger Cultivation, Goat Rearing and Paddy Cultivation. For instance, Kong Teilang, women SHG from the interiors of Mawkyrwat Block, West Khasi Hills. Their village, Mawkabait is cut off in terms of road connectivity and electricity, yet this group of 12 women have managed to plough on despite these difficulties. They took a loan of Rs 20,000 from the Apex Cooperative Bank to rear goats. The determination of the members paid off when they were able to sell these goats for Rs 45,000, enabling them to pay back the loan. The profit they made along with their savings now amount to over Rs 10,000. Another woman SHG, Kong Iakyrshanlum, from Umpling, Shillong and her group received Rs 3000 from the Soil Department, East Khasi Hills and contributed Rs 2000 from their own savings to start this activity. Their first-ever sale amounted to Rs 8000, getting them a profit of Rs 3000. The group still meets regularly and this activity continues to give them a living income.
Kong Tharina, one of the leaders of the (SHG) at her village – Pynkya, in East Khasi Hills District and the women in her group would help each other and make products from their villages to sell them to the market. She would sell brooms, bay leaves, and other fruits and vegetables regularly to the local market. She and the ladies in her SHG attend annual fairs or food expos held by the government to showcase the products they grow in their village. In such expos, she would sell – ‘pashor’ or banana flower, and other local herbs like: ‘jali’, ‘soh ngang’, ‘jatira’, ‘jyllang’, ‘pathaw’ or pumkin, ‘kait’ or banana, ‘sohmarit’ or black pepper, ‘shynrai’ or turmeric, ‘jaiur’ or winged prickly ash. They make jams and fruit juices made from pineapple and carambola, tapioca chips, banana chips, millets cakes and honey. They would also sell pickle made from jack fruit and ‘sohphie’ known as Myrica esculenta in the scientific lexicon (Zizira, 2021).
Angela Shangoi of West Khasi Hills felt the need to help other farmers and, during the year 2012-13, she formed Self-Help Group (SHG) with 10 members. They make a great team and the results are showing. In March 2015, the Office of the District Horticulture Officer provided her SHG with a Jeep, to help transport produce to the wholesale market in Shillong. Due to good road connectivity, the SHG is able to reach their produce in a timely manner to the market and find buyers and thus benefit. She subscribed to receiving wholesale market prices through SMS, a service provided free of cost through a joint project by the Directorate of Horticulture, the State Marketing Board and NIC. She relies on these mobile alerts to know when to move her produce to the market (Zizira, 2021).
In 2013, a group of 11 like-minded residents led by Kong Sketina Kharbani, got together and decided that there had to be some way for them to earn a better livelihood and improve the quality of their lives. After a lot of discussion and planning, these individuals came together in June 2013 and formed an SHG. in West Khasi Hills District. Today, this group is one of the most successful groups in West Khasi Hills and engages in multiple livelihood activities ranging from agriculture and livestock to sericulture. The group also owns numerous assets such as a collection centre, a grocery store, a tailoring centre, a pickup truck and a power tiller. In addition, the group runs a morning school that provides basic education to children from Nonglwai and nearby villages (Website of Meghalaya Basin Development Authority, Government of Meghalaya).
While looking at the challenges of women SHGs, the discharge of their activities, normally face various kinds of challenges and risks. They face challenges at home with the families, within the organisations, while procuring inputs and marketing their products, giving leaderships and within the society. Main external challenges faced by SHGs relate to banking services in the matter of getting loans from banks, the release of subsidy, the conduct of bank officials with the SHG office-bearers, sanctioning of the loan amount and government officials.
Women contribute to the larger part of the population in our country. The existing scenario is that women form an important part of the labour force and the economic role played by them cannot be isolated from the framework of development. As a majority of our women lack assets that help contribute to their empowerment and well-being, economic independence through self-employment and entrepreneurial development, the Government should take various initiatives to empower women of the country through Five Year Planning. There is a need to encourage the rural women so that they come forward to join the hands in development activities, as it is not only the duty of the government but at a certain level, all stakeholders have to take initiatives somewhere. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])