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Self help groups offer social, economic security to TN women


india Updated: Nov 05, 2003 16:36 IST

Thomas Franco

Mahalir Association for Literacy Awareness and Rights

They save small and slowly but it is helping them find their feet. Women in some villages of Tamil Nadu save Rs 20 a month, a small figure by most standards. But the small figures are adding up and making a huge difference to their lives. These women are part of the Women Savings Groups, functioning in various districts of Tamil Nadu.

The Savings Groups are part of a programme run by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF). The programme, which began in 1991, as part of the total literacy campaign has diversified and broadened its field of activity. After the government wound up its total literacy campaign in 1994, the TNSF decided to utilize its vast network of volunteers to help set-up Self Help Groups (SHG) in villages. The objective of these SHG’s is to help the women form peer groups to manage their own affairs and solve their problems.

Today these women not only solve their own problems but also help other women who are in need. Take the instance of Daisy from Kuttiparavilai village. Her husband was an alcoholic and used to beat her frequently. After Daisy discussed the matter with the group, she was lodged at a group member’s home. She only returned to her husband’s home after he apologized and promised not to beat her again.

Apart from resolving such domestic disputes and social issues at the local level these groups are also working towards changing the economic profile of women at the rural level. By offering loans to members from the group savings, they encourage and help women to start entrepreneurial ventures. In the case of Thayammal, a widow from Paramankonam Theru village in Kanyakumari, her village group helped her buy two handloom mills. Earlier the woman was barely able to provide for herself and her two daughters in the meager sum she used to earn as a handloom-mill worker. After setting up her mill Thayammal now leads a comfortable life and has also been able to get her elder daughter married.

The best part about these SHG’s is their democratic structure and working methods. Despite being a part of the TNSF chain through the state, each village unit takes its decisions independently. The village units take decisions based on consensus among its members. Members participate in a weekly meeting, where decisions are taken collectively and the TNSF newsletter is discussed. The minutes of the meeting are recorded and the accounts of the SHG are open for scrutiny to all members. The TNSF functionaries at the district and the state level only monitor the functioning of the SHG. They also help the SHG’s by organising inter-SHG interaction and by helping them build partnership with external organisations.

In 1997 TNSF had organised a training session for women from 12 states to introduce to them their structure and model of organizational management and approach of empowering people at the ground level. These groups now network under Samata Micro-credit Network, which has around 15000 groups across the country.

TNSF currently has 32 full-time members and 323 volunteers. The organisation does not depend on either the government or foreign aid for its activities. The funds are generated through donations by members and the membership fee.

(The author Thomas Franco is a Chief Manager in State Bank of India at Karungal. He can be contacted at and Mahalir Association for Literacy Awareness and Rights [MALAR] can be contacted at

First Published: Oct 28, 2003 15:38 IST