What are Women’s Groups?

Women’s Self Help Groups (WSHGs) are cohorts of twelve to twenty adult women who come together with the shared goal of developing economic potential and stability, both for themselves and for each member. Evolving from Women’s Groups in the mid-1970s, WSHGs, like Women’s Groups, discuss village issues and learn about community health topics from the Village Health Worker (VHW) during monthly meetings. They are unique from Women’s Groups, however, in that members of WSHGs work to develop economic competency and stability by participating in microfinance enterprises.

After a WSHG has formed and members have complied with the tenets of regular meetings, collective action, and common purpose, meetings begin. Each member pays a monthly installment of 100 rupees ($2 USD). The VHW keeps track of who has paid and how much. After a certain amount of money has been collected, the WSHG decides together which member should receive a loan. If it is a woman’s first time receiving a loan, she goes to the bank to learn how to set up an account and fill out necessary forms and paperwork. In this way, WSHG women are also able to learn about the Indian banking system and set up bank accounts separate from their husbands,’ which can be empowering and financially liberating for a woman.

The loan is a large amount of money, often averaging around 5,000 rupees ($100 USD), more money than one individual woman could come up with single-handedly. With this money, the borrower can make an investment or create a micro-enterprise. Micro-enterprises range from buying fruit trees, chickens, or goats, and selling the products for profit, to selling bangles, vegetables, or dry fish. Other women opt for investing in a sewing machine to make saris and blouses, or a grinding machine to prepare spices and pulses. Some WSHG members use their loan to set up a small grocery shop or chai stand, or even buy musical instruments to rent out.

Once their business is up and running, the woman repays her loan to the group at a very low interest rate. For example, a woman borrows 5,000 rupees, buys beads, string, and jewels to make bracelets and necklaces to sell at market, establishes herself as a businesswoman, and pays back the loan at two percent interest over a span of six months. Before taking out another loan, the woman must first pay back her loan in full. Women begin repaying the loan one month after accepting it. When asked about a woman failing to repay her loan, most WSHG members are puzzled; few have encountered this problem. During this six month period of time, the WSHG members are continually giving their 100 rupees monthly contribution. It is a cycle of trusted giving and receiving between women loyal to the group.

Who do Women’s Groups serve?

WSHGs help women rise from helplessly relying on husbands for income to confidently calling the shots, running a business, generating a disposable income, and empowering other women to do the same.

WSHGs are not limited to developing financial literacy and financial stability. Women who participate in WSHGs also learn a great deal about health skills and social topics by working with Women’s Groups and Farmers’ Clubs. They focus on community values, and they collaborate to discuss and tackle important issues. During meetings, Village Health Workers (VHW) teach WSHG members about health topics and relevant skills. Women assist VHWs in health education, pregnancy care, family planning, and childcare throughout the village. Typically, at least five women within any WSHG are trained in basic first aid.

What are the goals of the Women’s Groups?

  • To empower women to be economically sustainable and therefore have more respect in the family and community
  • To help VHWs in health education, pregnancy care, family planning, and childcare throughout the village
  • To encourage gender equality in health, economics, and education