It is the vision of Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, to ensure that women have an equal place in our society. His focus has remained on ensuring their workforce participation increases and they receive greater representation in the political process. He has consistently advocated and worked towards the empowerment of women and has taken measures to ensure the same. One of his most significant steps was to initiate the system of Self-Help Groups amongst the women in the villages of Amethi. The primary focus of this scheme was to bring women together and empower them with information and decision making capabilities. Through Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP), the women are imparted with skills in leadership, education, fundamental rights, health and self defence, all of which enables them to become far more independent and empowered. SHGs were envisioned to reach out to the last person in the line and to percolate down to the most interior areas. They are designed as a three tier structure, i.e, SHGs within a village with 10-20 women, village level consisting of around 10 SHGs and the block level which is a federation of the village level SHGs.
In 2010, Rahul Gandhi brought Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, to the district of Amethi to shine a light on the growing development work in the region. The pair visited various schools, hospitals, the IGEHRC eye care camps and a group of SHGs to speak to women about their needs and development issues. This visit helped popularise the SHG scheme and highlight the incredible work these women do in villages around the district.
SHGs mainly work in areas of financial stability and inclusion, livelihood promotion, health care and access to government schemes.
The success of SHGs can be gauged from the extent of their proliferation in the villages of Amethi. In 2015-16 alone, the programme covered 16 blocks with 699 out of 701 gram panchayats included within RGMVP. Till March 2016, there were 13,795 SHGs in Amethi reaching out to 1,48,135 families.
Women across villages have reaped the benefits of the training and sensitisation that they received after being associated with the SHGs in their villages. They described the drastic improvement in their quality of life. through financial inclusion, access to government schemes and services, etc. Most importantly, their stories highlight the empowerment and independence that they have achieved after being associated with SHGs.
Here are a few stories of women describing how being active members of SHGs has changed their lives for the better -