• Letz Dream Foundation

Celebrating Women Leaders Smashing Patriarchy to Become Rural Entrepreneurs

I wanted to set up a shop, however, I needed financial support for the same” shares Baby, a 26-year-old woman living in Barta Village in Kaithal District, Haryana. She continues, “I had initially gone to a lot of Private Finance Agents and moneylenders. They were charging such high interest rates, that I could never avail a loan. I felt that my dream of setting up the shop is failing.”.

Married to Randhir – a labourer – with 2 daughters, Baby was among many women in that village who wanted to start their business. As a homemaker, she was entirely dependent on the income of her husband and it was increasingly getting difficult for her to manage the expenses of the household. Determined to change this situation, Baby decided to set up a small shop to increase her earnings.

However, to set up a shop and become an entrepreneur, Baby needed financial and emotional support. In fact, Baby’s is not the only story. There are many women like Baby who have stifled their eagerness and enthusiasm of becoming entrepreneurs or equally financially independent as their counter parts.

In the same district, in another village called Tatiana, 40-year-old Geeta faces the same problem. Married to a plumber, she was working as a labourer for a meagre sum of Rs. 500 per day. As her two children started growing, managing expenses became increasingly difficult for her. Well versed with tailoring, she wanted to open her own tailoring centre. Be that as it may, except for her husband she found no support from the elders in her family.

Just like Baby and Geeta, there are a lot of women who have to cross huge hurdles to chase their dreams of becoming an earning member, simply because of existing patriarchal rules and the regressive ideas about women not to be ‘allowed’ to work. However, fingers can also be pointed at lack of awareness and lack of access to information for these women and their families.

Solution to these problems don’t happen overnight. Continuous interventions, awareness sessions, information dissemination among many other methodologies need to be undertaken with families in living in similar systems. In fact, awareness spreading through community mobilisation usually leads to breaking of the cultural and patriarchal ties by women in these regions.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)/Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) have a huge responsibility in breaking these barriers, mobilising women and encouraging them to become a strong community. Accomplishment of this step is pertinent for revolutionising women leadership and entrepreneurship. Creating a sense of community and belongingness would eventually lead to sustainable Self-Help Groups (SHGs).

SHGs can be seen as a catalyst for rural development and women’s financial and social empowerment. The act of all women from a village coming together to form a group solely to empower each other is not only a show of strength but also distancing from patriarchal and cultural boundaries.

Letz Dream Foundation has been rigorously working on ground with these women to ensure income generation for these women. Aligning with targets of SDG 1 (Poverty Alleviation) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality), our attempt is to empower women and pull them out of poverty by making them financially independent.

If a SHG is sustainable, these women become eligible for loans from the Government. Working with 55000 women forming over 7000 SHGs, many women like Baby and Geeta have reaped the benefits of being a part of this group. With ease of access to loans and interest rates as low as 1%, a lot of women have availed these benefits to set up their own businesses.

Even for Baby becoming part of SHG was a turning point in her life. Continuous interaction with LDF motivated her to become a part of SHG. To kickstart her bangle shop and a beauty parlour, she availed a loan of Rs 50,000 and to ensure quality service in her beauty parlour, she went through training from an established beautician. Soon enough, the bangle shop as well as her skills as a beautician gained popularity and she started making profits. Her profit that is usually around Rs 6000 sees a sharp jump during wedding seasons where she earns around Rs 8000.

With more and more women availing loans at these lower rates and establishing businesses with an entire community supporting them, it is the need of the hour to work strongly towards ensuring that these leaders are encouraged. This can be possible with grassroots interventions by CSOs, NPOs, CSR, and Government. A strong nexus and partnership can also go a long way in creating systems in place.

“The income generated by the bangle shop I run has helped me tremendously! I feel financially independent and I am able to take care of the household expenses on my own” shares Baby. Talking about how the women in her village encouraged her, she says, “I am grateful the women in my community supported me in this process. Being a part of the SHG has definitely played an important part in this success. If I had not been able to get loans at a lower interest, none of my dreams would have been fulfilled.”

Meanwhile, Geeta was able to open her own tailoring centre with the support of her husband and the Self Help Group. “I was very happy to see the tailoring centre run smoothly. I was so inspired by it that I decided to start my own general shop. After that I also dreamt of setting up of a beauty parlour and I did it!” exclaims an excited Geeta. Presently her monthly earning is around Rs. 8000-10000.

These women have been an inspiration to many other women who are walking on the path paved by them. In fact, a lot of women are now being trained by Geeta and have started their own enterprises. After joining the SHG, Geeta’s life has seen tremendous positive impact. Not only has the economic condition of her household improved, her children have also started going to school.

The article is written by Christie Maria James, Asst. Manager, Communications

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