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Rural Women Series

Stree Shakti Sangha — Part I

There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.- Kofi Annan

Stree Shakti is a women empowerment program launched by the Government of Karnataka in 2000–01 to strengthen their access to financial services and make them self reliant. The program draws its inspiration from principles of the Self-help groups (SHG) wherein skill development and access to financial services are provided through micro-credit and savings product.

Image Source: iStockPhoto

Objectives of Stree Shakti Sangha:

  • To strengthen the process of economic development of rural women and create a conducive environment for social change.
  • To form a self-help group based on thrift and credit principles which builds self-reliance and enable women to have greater access and control over resources
  • To increase the income levels of rural women by engaging them in; Income generating activities and creating financial stability
  • To provide opportunities to the members of the groups to avail the benefits of other departmental schemes by converging the services of various departments and lending institutions to ensure; women’s access to; credit financing.

Source: Department of women and child, Karnataka

How is Stree Shakti Sangha formed?

Stree Shakti Sanghas are formed at the village level by Anganwadi workers. Each group usually contains 15–20 women, with a preference of women from the following categories

  1. Women living below the poverty line.
  2. Women landless agricultural labourers.
  3. Women from the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) communities and
  4. women from families with alcoholics, drug addicts or physically disabled persons.

It is the responsibility of the Anganwadi worker to form and organise the groups. The Anganwadi workers are trained for these activities and are given additional financial incentives to perform this role.

How does a Stree Shakti Sangha work?

  • The Anganwadi worker identifies a group of 15–20 women to form a self-help group.
  • The group meets with each other once in a week or once in a month.
  • These meetings start with a prayer and each woman is expected to contribute a minimum Rs.10 towards savings which goes into a common pool of money.
  • The activities and the minutes of the meeting are recorded in a physical notebook as a track of record and each member is given a passbook that records their contribution to the group.
  • When the savings reach a threshold amount, the group starts lending the amount to the individuals who require the most.
  • The group later transitions to create a joint account in the bank to keep their savings.
  • The bank later starts lending to the group after verifying their accounts, books and records of the weekly meetings. The loan amount is based on their savings in the bank account.
  • Apart from the loan activities, the group is also encouraged to engage in income-generating activities such as tailoring, weaving, agarbatti (incense sticks) making, papad making etc.

Responsibilities of Anganwadi workers in the Sangha:

  • To identify 15–20 women and start a Stree Shakti group.
  • To hold regular meetings with the group
  • Takedown minutes and proceedings of the meetings
  • Facilitating bank linkages and doing the accounts.
  • Training the group to conduct these activities themselves.

The Anganwadi worker is expected to handhold the group for the first 6 months of the establishment and later transition the control to the group by appointing a President and Vice president who would take over the operations of the group.

Meeting prayer:

The prayer that at the beginning of every meeting is a form of resolution that these women take for themselves which contains the following:

  • We will bring up our children in the family without gender discrimination.
  • We will send daughters to school compulsorily and not make them drop out in the middle for any reason.
  • We will arrange the marriage of our daughters only after they attain 18 years of age.
  • We will plant two trees compulsorily in our house yards
  • We will grow green vegetables in the backyard of our houses and use it for our families
  • We will vaccinate our children at regular intervals and see that they are not malnourished and affected by any fatal disease

Stree Shakti Federations:

  • To strengthen the functioning of the Sanghas, federations have been formed in all Talukas and are registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960.
  • Each taluka federation overlooks all the Sanghas operated in their taluka.
  • The taluka federations contain 8–10 executives represented from the Department of Women and Child (DWC) of Karnataka.
  • The taluka federations report to District federations.

Attending a Stree Shakti meeting

We attended a Sangha meeting to understand better about how these groups function.

References:

  1. Understanding gendered empowerment through a government-run microfinance programme: The case of Stree Shakti in Karnataka
  2. Department of women and child development — Karnataka

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Dharmesh Ba

Dharmesh Ba

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Building @D91Labs, Design lead @setu. NID alumnus, ex-Cleartax. All things fintech.