Empowerment of women is one of the key development initiatives identified by the Government of Orissa. It is well-known that economic empowerment of women significantly contributes to their social empowerment. As such helping women to achieve economic independence by enabling them to have independent employment and income has been accorded the highest priority. It has also been recognized that women will be better-placed to overcome the negative social pressures and gender biases operating against them and to unshackle themselves through group identity and activity. Promotion of Women’s Self-Help Groups (WSHGs) has therefore been adopted as a key strategy for achieving women’s empowerment. A Mission approach has been adopted for this purpose through launching of ‘Mission Shakti’ aimed at promotion of Women’s Self-Help Groups. Launched in March 2001, the mission had been entrusted with the task of forming 1,00,000 Women’s Self-Help Groups by 2005 @ 25,000 Groups annually over and above the 36,000 odd WSHGs already existing in the State prior to the launching of the Mission. Another important objective of the Mission is to help capacity-building of the existing and the new Groups to be formed to take up income-generating and remunerative economic activities by providing them the necessary technical support, market linkages and credit linkages, where necessary.
During 2005-06, 35,373 number of WSHGs have been formed and 24,710 number have been credit linked. This brings the cumulative achievement under Mission Shakti to formation of 1,90,785 SHGs with 24,03,482 members having a saving of Rs.170.62 crores. Against this a total credit linkage of Rs. 487.17 crores has been advanced by Bank by end of March 2006. The average credit per group has increased from Rs.22,200 as on March 2005 to Rs.28,103 by end of March 2006. The Mission activities have now been extended till 2008 with an aim of forming 2 (two) lakh groups and linking the groups with credit.
Financial Assistance to Weak WSHGs
To support the economic activities of the Women’s Groups, a scheme for providing financial to weak WSHGs is being implemented. Among the WSHGs, there are many Groups comprising women from the poorest of the poor families. Most of these Groups are interested in taking up small income-generation activities such as collection and sale of minor forest produce (MFP), bee-keeping and honey production, value addition to MFP like hill-brooms, making of leaf-plates etc. However, these SHGs do not move beyond the savings and internal lending phase to the credit availing phase. In order to encourage them to avail credit, a financial incentive is provided to them in terms of a saving corpus of Rs. 5000/- when they avail their first credit from the financing institution. This corpus with a lock-in period of 3 years, can be used to avail further credit from the banks thus increasing the group activities more viable. The Project is being implemented in the KBK area with the ACA allocation under the RLTAP as well as under State Plan for other districts. Mahila Vikas Samabaya Nigam (MVSN), the Women’s Development Corporation of the State, is the Nodal Agency for this Scheme.
An amount of Rs.1.50 crores has been provided during 2005-06 under the RLTAP for KBK and Rs1.00 crore under State Plan for this Scheme.
Capacity building has emerged as next important felt need of the SHGs more particularly in the field of Skill upgradation. At the initial stage the SHG members were producing primarily for their household or at best village needs. In order to make it a commercial proposition quality product along with improvement the productivity was much needed to face the competition from the varieties of producers flooding the market with quality products at competitive price. In view of this all Districts have been requested to assess the training need of the SHGs for formulation of a comprehensive action plan. Alternative channel has been also explored through NGOs who have formed at least 50 SHGs and possess necessary infrastructure & expertise in the field of Capacity Building assessment of the training needs. Besides, the State level SHGs federations have also been suggestive about the training needs. Depending on these recommendations and feasibility there of steps are being taken to explore the available infrastructure with Govt. & Non. Govt. organization. a total no. of 7310 women have been trained/ undergoing training during the campaign period till date. Greater thrust has been given to skill upgradation during 2004-05 & 2005-06 as per the decision of the steering committee. Govt. have decided to involve potential NGOs who possess necessary infrastructure & expertise in the process of Capacity Building as per the recommendations of micro-finance conventions.
The members of the WSHGs will also need some technical support for upgrading their skills and acquiring new skills through training. For taking up economic activities, there is also a felt need for developing entrepreneurial and managerial skills among these women’s groups. The economic activities taken up by the WSHGs relating to different sectors need technical support from the concerned line Departments. Efforts are being made to ensure convergence of the efforts of the various Departments at the field level for providing necessary technical inputs in areas like horticulture, floriculture, mushroom cultivation, extraction of minor forest produce, handicrafts, dairy, poultry and pisciculture etc.
Efforts are also being made for securing easy marketability for the products made by WSHGs by establishing appropriate market linkages by involving other organizations like the OFDC, ORMAS, TDCC etc. One useful way of creating the marketing potential is to encourage the SHGs to participate in different regional exhibitions. Another important route to market is to involve SHGs in supply of items like Dal for the MDM / SNP programmes where the Government itself is a large purchaser. Institutionalisation of this aspect is under way.