Of all the deprived populations in Bihar, perhaps the most marginalized and exploited are the Dalit (excluded) women with little education, fewer skills, and no avenue for earning other than daily agricultural labor. Lacking any social status, the people in these communities have been traditionally not only poor but also totally disconnected from social, political, and economic opportunity.
With funding by Lutheran World Relief, in 2009 IDF embarked on a three-year project aimed at significantly improving the women's standard of living. Using the critical tool of self-help groups (SHGs), project organizers facilitated as the women learned to generate savings, build up credit for themselves, and then borrow money to start their own small businesses for the first time. Additional training in specific areas such as leadership, group management, functional literacy, and banking procedures provided the skills necessary for the women to manage their self-help process effectively. And local resource groups composed of key community stakeholders such as teachers and health and social workers provided an important source of ongoing additional support.
Though still limited to the agricultural sphere, the opportunities now open to the women are many and varied. Some are raising animals, others are selling fertilizer from their own composting, others are making bamboo crafts. As a result of this intervention, it is expected that 70 percent of the 650 women SHG participants in 25 villages will be able to generate monthly incomes of Rs 1,200, comfortably above the poverty line.
Click here for the project report (pdf).
Income-generating activity (left) and literacy class (right)