The economic study noted that the self-help groups have had a positive effect on women economically, socially and politically, empowering them in various ways. Image for representation purposes only. | Photo credit: Biswaranjan Rout
With 75% of female workers in rural India employed in agriculture, there was a need to upgrade their skills and create employment for them in related sectors such as food processing, and self-help groups (SHGs) can play a pivotal role in this, according to Economic Survey 2023. said.
The survey indicated that the transformative potential of SHGs was exemplified by the key roles they played during the COVID-19 pandemic. SHGs have taken the lead in producing masks, sanitizers and protective gear. They have also raised awareness about the pandemic, for example the ‘Patrakar Didis’ in Jharkhand have delivered essential goods like floating supermarkets in Kerala, run community kitchens like Prerna canteens in Uttar Pradesh and supported the livelihoods of farmers.
He noted that self-help groups have had a positive effect on women economically, socially and politically, empowering them in various ways such as familiarity with money management, financial decision-making, improved social networks, ownership of assets and diversification of livelihoods.
The survey indicated that the demonstration of their resilience and flexibility during crises, including the pandemic, therefore needs to be regularized for long-term rural transformation.
India has around 1.2 crore SHGs, of which 88% are all female. SHG success stories include Kudumbashree in Kerala, Jeevika in Bihar, Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal in Maharashtra and recently, Looms of Ladakh.
The SHG Bank Linkage Project (SHG-BLP), launched in 1992, has become the largest microfinance project in the world. With the active collaboration of stakeholders, SHG-BLP covers 14.2 crore families across 119 lakh SHGs with savings deposits of ₹47,240.5 crore, and 67 lakh groups with outstanding unsecured loans of ₹1,51,051.3 crore , as of March 31, 2022.
The economic study also noted that there was a notable increase in the female rural labor force participation rate (FLFPR) from 19.7% in 2018-2019 to 27.7% in 2020-21. This could be attributed to the increase in rural amenities freeing up time for women and strong agricultural growth over the years.
However, he noted that female LFPR in India is likely to be underestimated, with reforms in survey design and content needed to more accurately capture the reality of working women.
“There is a need to broaden the horizon of the measurement of work, which constitutes the whole universe of productive activities alongside employment,” says the survey.
According to the latest standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO), limiting productive work to participation in the labor market is narrow and only measures work as a marketable product. It does not include the value of women’s unpaid domestic work, which can be considered expense-saving work, such as collecting firewood, cooking, caring for children, etc., and which contributes significantly to the standard of living of the household.
That said, there is still significant scope to undo gender-based disadvantages to allow women to choose freely to join the labor market, according to the survey.