Empowerment by all means

The self help group movement in India has opened doors for women to experience economic independence through financial intermediation. Today, the groups have grown to walk that extra mile in developing their communities. Radhika, Founder, Sivagami Rural Women Federation in Villupuram, is one such empowered woman, who has designed her own journey in this road. Even as a school student she was drawn towards social concerns, and she always intended to bring about a change in her own style. Though she had to discontinue studies after twelfth standard, her attention to social issues only grew manifold. She grew to be a keen social observer. The fact that her husband was disabled did not deter her from beating her own drums. “I wanted to prove that life is what you see and make of it,” asserts Radhika.

Although being the mother of two daughters, she attends SHG meetings regularly and guides her members. She is also the District Secretary for the political party Samuga Samathuva Padai and has actively campaigned for the cause of returning the panchami lands. “I intend to convincingly show that women can work like men, multi-task in the social work field,” she says.

As a trainer for the last ten years, she has equipped the women in her network with skills such as jam, sauce, and pickle making. The groups have together organized periodic medical camps, awareness on the use of sanitary napkins, and the importance of using toilets. They have been able to efficiently use the funds to construct toilets in the neighbouring villages. Of late, they have also propagated kitchen gardens for farmers and the cultivation of herbal crops.

Motivation to engage in multiple activities comes from Radhika’s sense of curiosity. “I always want to learn and explore,” she quips. She explains that there are women who are well read but yet remain housewives on the one hand, and women who want to study but are not motivated to do so on the other hand. “Today, these women have come forward to complete their degree through correspondence, which is a great achievement considering the prevalence of social taboos in the rural landscape.”

Radhika believes that this entire social activity helps women in parenting, more so striking a chord with their children. The self-help groups have adopted ten villages in the district where they distribute books and note books to school students, toys to children at balwadis and also run evening tuition centres.

Further, they have launched a tailoring institute in Dindivanam and Semmangalam districts. According to her, change and development are both relative terms. The very fact that women have begun to approach the groups for help is in itself an indication of success. “A woman, who once used to lock herself inside the house after the child leaves for school, is now working for the federation’s administration. They now participate in meetings like men. They are equal now!” says a proud Radhika.

Commenting on the acknowledgement given to women self-help groups, she justifies, “If not for the results shown, the Andhra Pradesh government would not have proposed a dedicated bank for women SHGs and the Central Government would not have reduced the rate of interest for these groups from 12 to 7 percent.” Above all, what is to be appreciated is the fact that women have realized the need for money and have come forward to generate resources.

“This is not all! We have also been able to enable elders get their pension, enumeration in the voting list, and provide awareness on registering with the employment exchange. At a micro level, we have been able to prevent suicides in the regions we work,” adds Radhika.

Although the Federation has been operating for about ten years now, it was registered only three years ago. “All thanks to CSIM,” smiles Radhika. She came to know about CSIM while volunteering with an organization in the same district. “Through registration, I realized the need to acknowledge our work. The course at CSIM helped me organize my activities towards caring for the people. It gave me the confidence to talk to different stake holders appropriately. CSIM has played a crucial role in moulding me as a social worker.”

Being in the forefront of a women’s federation and a political party is not an easy task. But, Radhika seems to have gotten the grasp of it. The two roles complement each other well.

Ms Sivagami IAS, whom Radhika met about ten years ago is her source of inspiration. Ms Sivagami’s resignation to concentrate at the grass root level has impacted her strongly. “I realized from her that there was much to be done for the people and education certainly is not a barrier,” explains Radhika, who acquired a degree in Sociology at the age of 34.

She adds that family cannot be a hurdle to our social interests. “This is how social work is. Not all can have the same attitude towards society. As a social worker, I must and I have been able to manage personal and professional life at a reasonably well,” she signs off.

—Shanmuga Priya.R.