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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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...   CHAPTER 1    

     INTRODUCTION

'Microfinance recognizes that poor people are remarkable reservoirs of energy and knowledge. And while the lack of financial services is not just a sign of poverty, today it is looked as an untapped opportunity to create markets, bring people in from the margins and give them the tools to help themselves.' ' Kofi Annan (Sec. General of UN)

Microcredit in development discourse

In developing countries, microfinance have been incorporated in development discourse, where government and non-governmental organizations have introduced microfinance programs as a form of financial inclusion of the poor or marginalised section of the society, offering financial services to low income households. Micro-credit, as defined by Grameen Bank, is a form of small loans extended to the poor for undertaking self-employment projects that would generate income and enable them to provide for themselves and their families.  Grameen Bank in Bangladesh was founded in 1983 by Prof. Yunus, who saw that the poor had no or less amount of finance to support their livelihood.  Loans are given to the poor to enable them to raise their income levels and improve living standards. As Economist and Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman said, 'The poor stay poor, not because they are lazy but because they have no access to capital'.

In India, perpetual poverty and lack of adequate credit have remained the major constraints in the economic upliftment of rural households (Vatta 2003). It is observed that due to the lack of access to credit, women are the ones who are the most affected in terms of lack of development, which limits their socioeconomic status and enhances their continuing subordination to men. When microfinance started in the developing world, it was targeted at women as they are seen to be the ones who are more likely to have less access to credit and if they get access to credit and income, they are the ones who are more likely to uplift the health and wellbeing of herself and her family and as Prof. Yunus said, ''the children are the immediate beneficiaries if the mother is the borrower. Women had longer vision. They want to bring changes to their lives step by step. They use their money cautiously. They are also excellent managers of scarce resources, stretching the use of every resource to maximum.'  

The SHG Concept

In India, SHGs are being promoted for their positive economic impact and used as a tool for women's empowerment.

Microfinance involves financing for self-help groups. SHGs are small, informal association of 10-20 likeminded members. Homogeneity ensures that the members do not have conflicting interests and can participate freely. After it is formed, the group regularly collects a fixed amount of thrift from each member. With this amount, it starts lending to members for petty consumption needs. (Vatta 2003) With time the working funds grow and they are able to give out more resources to its members. To make their savings more viable, they function on thrifts they collect from each other and credit taken from microfinance institutes. The members are able to gain advantages of being able to borrow on easy terms and the flexibility of loan repayment from the group's collective savings. SHGs become viable for women as they can generate their own resources through mutual help and cooperation, organize themselves and increase their prospect of development.

Self-help groups in Ukhrul

North East Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCORMP) is an initiative in India, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It implements projects which seek to mobilise communities, for them to take actions in combating poverty and underdevelopment. In Ukhrul district, projects are implemented and delivered through the project initiated community based institutions, in which SHG is a component.

In 2008, a micro credit organization was set up in Ukhrul district. The micro credit organization acts as a funding institute, which gives out loans and credits. It has 48 villages and 724 SHGs under it. It incorporates self-help by regular small saving and thrift habits. Women are integrated into their programme as they are one of the main contributors to economy in Tangkhul society. They give loans to married women as they are the ones who manage the family and have less opportunity in finding employment. The micro credit institute gives a platform for women to generate income by supporting income generating activities.   The structure of SHG is such that the Apex body, i.e. the microcredit organization is at the apex level, followed by the Zonal Federation and Village Federation, which monitors all the groups within the Zones of the district, i.e. Central, Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western, and the groups within the village, respectively. They also facilitate new groups and acts as pressure groups. At the base is the individual SHG unit, comprised of 15-20 members (See Box 1).

Geographical and socio-historical setting

Ukhrul District is situated in the eastern part of Manipur State. It is occupied by the Tangkhul Naga Tribe. It is a hilly region. It is poor on infrastructure with few proper roads, health centres, educational and water facilities. The lack of proper roads and transport, contributes to the lack of communication and inaccessibility to majority of the villages. This lack of development could be attributed to the neglect of the mainland non-tribal administration. Also, the on-going conflict between the Naga people and the Indian State on their quest for freedom and a separate Nagalim State further aggravates the lack of development. With local insurgency, economic blockades, and curfews taking place quite so often, there is always inflation and lack of proper amenities which in turn aggravates the vulnerability of the poor. (Nongbri 2003)

Gender relations

The Tangkhul tribe is a Patriarchal society where the descent, inheritance and residence are derived from the male. Men hold rights over children and property, and they also take all the major decisions in the household. (Nongbri 2003) It has a traditional institution headed by village chief who is known as the Headman (Awunga) and the ministry of councils who are the clan representatives (Hanga). Women are excluded from the village council (Zimik, et al. 2008). However all important matters of household are discussed with women and their opinions are included in the decision making (A Shimray 2001). Women though lack a voice in terms of more public matters. Women play a big role in the economic welfare of the family. She does domestic and household chores along with agricultural work and practice trade like selling vegetables, meat, handloom products and traditional items. (Singh 1996)

Women's position in the society

On the surface, it can be seen that women's status, their role and contribution in social life is not inferior to that of men, considering the effective existence of the Tangkhul Shanao Long (TSL), the Tangkhul Women Council; which mobilises all Tangkhul women and has hugely contributed to the society. But if you closely examine the way patriarchy functions in Tangkhul, you can see the nuances of gender differences present in the society. Women are the ones whose duties lie in 'domestic activities'. They are taken for granted as work machines or service providers; they put in their time, energy and labour into the family; they are the ones who get up first early in the morning, prepare the house for the day, cook the meals, send their children off to school and their husbands off to work, does the household works, goes to work or to the field. In the evening, she goes through the household work again and finally is able to rest by retiring to bed. They are also the ones who are expected to be the caretakers of the older members of the family. Men are the ones who own the property in terms of land, house, or paddy fields, but it is seen that women are the ones who perform most of the household work and agriculture or cultivation work. Women had less financial power, and were not recognised as credit worthy as they do not have property or mortgage; therefore, credit was regarded as man's domain. Women have less participation and say in community decision making. Factors like poverty, lack of control over resources, illiteracy or limited education, traditional norms and customs, established gender roles and societal expectations to follow up on those roles; creates a gender divide, and enhances inequality that is present in a patriarchal society.  

Self-help groups and Tangkhul women

In Ukhrul, there is a system of savings known as marup which has been functioning among women. It is a form of saving habit, where women form a group of about 6 to 10 members, and they collect a certain amount. They lend the collected amount to their group members or outsiders for a certain rate of interest, most commonly at 5%. The group continues to function for around 10 to 12 months, after which it reaches maturity. The group either disengages and divide their capital with interests or continue to exist. (P. Zimik 2015) Despite the presence of such saving systems, women still had less access to credit and incomes. The establishment of a micro-credit organization and the incorporation of Self Help Groups have provided the means for women to take up income generating activities which supplements or complements the household income. Coupled with trainings for capacity building, leadership skills, training on accounting, food and fruit processing, agro and horticulture activities; and exposure trips and participation in exhibitions have improved the economic status of women, their confidence, an achievement of marketing skills and created an entrepreneurial impetus. It is seen that SHGs have a positive effect on women; they are able to address family income, their needs, have confidence in their abilities and are realising the strength of unity through extending mutual aid, cooperation to one another and boosting each other.

Chapter 2, Methodology- The chapter consists of the research design, research process including methods, tools and experience of data collection; and also includes the rationale, research questions and objectives of the study.

Chapter 3, Space: negotiating space ' The chapter looks into space and social relations, looks into spatial divisions of labour, traces the dimensions of space, place and gender, and examines what a woman's place is, and looks at how women negotiates space through SHG.

Chapter 4, Empowerment ' The chapter deals with what empowerment really is, how it is interpreted, how is it experienced by women. It will also look in gender interests, what does it consist of and are women able to achieve it through SHGs, if so, how?

Chapter 5, Major findings and data analysis- The chapter will discuss the various findings of the study undertaken and relate it to the literature reviewed, to the questions and objectives of the study.

Chapter 6, Conclusion- The chapter will discuss the findings and reflect whether it justifies the questions and objectives of the study. And it will also include the concluding remarks.

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