4th December, 2003
REGIONAL SIDELIGHTS


EMPOWERING WOMEN IN KERALA

K.L. Sreekrishna Das*


In the remote village of Kollengode in Palakkad district of Kerala, a rural revolution is taking place under the guidance of Dr. Prabhakar, who heads a non-governmental organization(NGO) called Society for Rural Improvement (SRI). Inspired by the success story of the Grameen Banking System, conceived and executed in Bangladesh by Dr. Mohammed Yunus, an economics professor, Dr. Prabhakar, an English professor in the United States, founded his organisation in February 1996. He started the Grameen Banking System by investing his own money in it. To start with, loans were disbursed to 20 beneficiaries in May 1996.

Undeterred by obstacles and hardships he faced, Dr. Prabhakar moved forward and the results were quite encouraging. The organisation gradually grew into a large rural movement which exploded the myth that the poor rural women were not credit-worthy. After seven years, the Society for Rural Improvement has extended its clientele base to 3000. With a repayment record of about 99 per cent, the organisation has proved that the rural banking system can be utilised as a dynamic component in the socio-economic development programme for the poorest of the poor among the women. The society is spread over 130 centres in its Kollengode and Vadavannur branches. The total amount disbursed is about Rs. 5.72 crore. Out of this Rs.3.45 crore has been repaid. In addition, Rs.1,72,800 has been generated as savings for the beneficiaries.

The managerial staff of SRI got one month’s training at Grameen Trust, Bangladesh, during 1997-98. During the training, they were exposed to the grass-root level functioning of the rural banking system.

Income Generation

The organisation does not interfere with the selection and management of the work by the beneficiaries but only monitors and provides necessary help, guidance and leadership by acting as a catalyst and facilitator. The women are at liberty to select an income-generating activity they prefer, based on the local socio-economic scenario. The various income-generating activities undertaken by the women beneficiaries of the society include milking cows, paddy husking, making of snacks, running tea and other shops, preparation of pickles and weaving textiles.

An amount of Rs.8,000 is given as loan for milking of cows and Rs.5,000 for other occupations. The annual interest charged is 15 per cent and the repayment is on a weekly basis. No subsidy is given on the loan. The beneficiaries are too happy nnot to face any hurdles in securing the loan once the project is cleared by the society. B. Valsala of Vandithavalam in Palakkad district is a satisfied beneficiary of the scheme. Her husband, Mayankutty, is a tailor and the family was finding it to difficult to make both ends meet with the income from tailoring. Valsala took a loan of Rs.8000 from the Society for Rural Improvement in 2002 for purchasing a cow. She has already paid back the entire amount and has got a savings of Rs.1800 in the bank in her name. She intends to take a second loan from the society for purchasing another cow.

Work Ethics

Blending the positive elements of the West and the East in the field of professionalism, the society is trying to nurture a work force of young generation with a sense of hard work, commitment and sincerity. There are 22 staff members in SRI and twelve of them are women. There is no peon in the office and all are supposed to do every work. Dignity of labour is their motto.

Novel Features

The society has embarked upon innovative areas like Vanitha Grocery Store, Women’s Garment Unit and Tender Coconut Parlour. While the Vanitha Grocery store ensures supply of essential commodities with quality at affordable cost to the rural women, Women’s Garment Unit is aimed at eliminating exploitation of women’s labour. The Tender Coconut Parlours are expected to revive the age-old natural healthy drinking habit. The society also has plans to introduce a low-budget housing scheme for the poor women in collaboration with the Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra and the Swiss Development Corporation.

Empowerment

A comprehensive socio-economic development programme for the poor rural women has been formulated with the Grameen Banking System as its base. Since education is an important factor in the development process, free tuition services to the poor and needy children are also provided by the society. Efforts are afoot to educate the women on safe drinking water, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.

The society has proved that a positive change is possible with hard work, discipline and professionalism. It has effectively conveyed the message of empowerment of women to the rural poor at the grassroot level. The Society for Rural Improvement, Kollengode, has established that the poorest rural women having no access to the traditional banking system, can wisely invest money, can have entrepreneurial skills and can be fully credit worthy. With proper help, guidance and leadership, the rural women in Kollengode have proved to be an asset not only to their homes but also to the society at large. (PIB Features)

*DPR, PIB, Thiruvananthapuram

 
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