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LUKE 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

SOLS is making sure that Women’s empowerment helps children in India

Development practitioners increasingly see women’s empowerment as central to reducing poverty. Microfinance programmes are being enthusiastically adopted worldwide to promote such empowerment. In the Indian state of Tamilnadu over five million women have formed self-help groups, but little is known about what impact this has on child welfare.

A paper from the Young Lives project, in the UK, and the United Nations Children’s Fund considers the impact of women’s self-help groups formed as part of microfinance programmes in Tamilnadu, India. In particular, the authors look at how these self-help groups shape women’s empowerment, and what impact this has on the wellbeing of children.

Self-help groups serve as a focus for microfinance programmes providing poor women with credit, which can be used to improve the wellbeing of their households. Development practitioners also believe women can use self-help groups to boost their social networks and community participation. Key findings from one urban and three rural ‘mandals’ (territorial and administrative units) in Tamilnadu include:

There have been improvements in women’s decision-making power within households.

This has often resulted in more investment in children’s nutrition, health and education, use of government services and efforts to monitor service delivery.

  • Available loans are insufficient and infrequent and have rarely been used for productive investment.
  • Women are also limited by time constraints, lack of group unity and the narrow focus of initiatives to build up skills and resources.
  • There have been some positive effects of women’s empowerment on improved child wellbeing.
  • Other improvements to child wellbeing are a result of explicitly stated programme aims.

The authors conclude that efforts to empower women through self-help groups have had a positive but limited effect on child wellbeing and little effect on existing power structures within communities and households. Positive changes are also unevenly distributed between groups and mandals, and individual women and children.

The report has several recommendations to increase the impact of women’s self-help groups on child wellbeing: better access to sustainable income-generating opportunities for women in self-help groups (and affordable good quality childcare)

  • careful assessment of these groups’ ability to carry out community monitoring and help provide community services 
  • providing resources and opportunities for women to improve their skills (including literacy programmes)
  • developing minimum standards or a common code of practice for self-help groups
  • a more explicit focus on addressing the multiple dimensions of childhood poverty – especially child protection issues – in self-help group design
  • long-term investment in  opportunities for women to participate in formal democratic processes, for example through local government.

There should also be a focus on changing men’s attitudes and practices, including their responsibilities towards children’s wellbeing.