The Bajaj Foundation has helped establish over 600 women’s self-help groups. By empowering women to become leaders in their communities, these women’s collaboratives are transforming villages throughout Wardha.
Throughout the developing world, women often work longer and harder than men, but are denied equality in employment and in the home. In Wardha, despite having relatively high literacy rates compared to the national average, most women lack the economic, social, and recreational opportunities available to men.
Every month, thousands of women throughout Wardha gather in self-help groups. These collaboratives offer women the opportunity to pool their resources and to collectively discuss their challenges and their dreams.
Most self-help groups require a small monthly contribution from each member. Usually 100 rupees ($2), these monthly contributions accumulate over time. Each group decides how to spend the funds. Many invest in a collaborative business venture.
One women’s self-help group built a daal (lentil) and spice processing machine. By grinding daal and spices for the local community, the machine earns income for the self-help group and provides a vital service to nearby farmers.
In addition to economic opportunities, the collaboratives serve as a supportive community where women come together to discuss their problems and opportunities. Most villages lack a public space where women feel safe to gather as a group. The women’s self-help groups provide such a safe space, in addition to a network of other women who are experiencing similar challenges.
How You Can Help
In 2013, a CMU team spent five weeks working with the leaders of women’s self help groups. The team conducted trainings in business, computers, leadership, and English.
In keeping with the participatory approach of the Bajaj Foundation, these trainings involved two-way exchanges of ideas and information. One session included a large group discussion of what it means to be a woman in the United States, India, and Qatar.
Students from CMU-Q donated laptops to the leaders of four self-help groups and plan to return with more laptops in the upcoming year. They trained teams of women leaders how to use the laptops to organize their business plans, keep records, and explore the web.
The Bajaj Lab is working to bring the leaders of several self-help groups to Pittsburgh to share their experiences and their stories.
If you would like to help conduct workshops with women leaders in Wardha or help bring a group to Pittsburgh, there are many ways you can get involved.