A range of bags adorns one wall of a small store in Dhamani village in Pune district. Mangal Wagh arranges newly acquired beauty products on a shelf along the other. Passersby slow down to wave or call out a greeting to her.
Three years ago, Ms. Wagh (39) would step out of her house to work as a daily wager to look after her family of four. She had to take up work after her husband became paralysed. Today, Ms. Wagh owns a shop that offers wallets, handbags, schoolbags and beauty products, which are popular with women in the village.
Ms. Wagh owes her financial independence to the Ernst And Young Foundation and the Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social services arm of TVS Motors. The two organisations have been empowering women by setting up self-help groups in over 100 villages in Pune district.
Three years ago, Ms. Wagh took a loan of ₹20,000 and rented a shop in her village. Today, she teaches five children to make bags and is looking to expand her business. She said, “I want to learn micro design in embroidery to sell more items. Hardly any shops offer these services here, so people come to me.”
Roopa Sanghuri from Wafgaon village shares a similar story. From being the owner of two cows and a few goats, Ms. Sanghuri now runs a beauty parlour after borrowing ₹10,000 from the self-help group in her village. “I wanted to save for my daughter. Now, the parlour is running well and I earn around ₹300 per day and save ₹700 a month,” Ms. Sanghuri said.
Financial independence has changed not only the lifestyle of these women, but also their outlook and standing. They are more confident and are respected in their villages. Sridhar Iyer, national director, EY Foundation India, said, “Economic independence has a major role to play in women’s social empowerment. We are trying to solve monetary issues of rural women by educating them on formal borrowing and low cost, sustainable means of livelihood.”
The self-help groups meet every month and discuss solutions to issues faced by women and their villages. The Gulani village, for instance, was facing water scarcity for seven years due to irregular monsoon, and the lake in the village could not meet the needs of 250 families. Most people had to fetch water from other villages, and the chore fell to the women, who had to walk two to three kilometres every day to get water.
With EY-SST’s guidance and help, the women desilted the lake in May last year at a cost of ₹4 lakh. The women met 60% of the expenses through crowdfunding, while EY-SST provided the rest. The village now has water, and the fertile soil from the desilting work resulted in a better crop for farmers.
EY-SST has also helped renovate government primary schools in Khed taluka. Trees were planted, toilets built and school walls painted, prompting parents to withdraw their children from private schools and send them to government schools. The EY-SST operates self-help groups in 2,000 villages in 10 States with the help of local non-profit organisations, and 478 groups in 162 villages in Pune district.
The writer visited various villages in Pune district at the invitation of the EY Foundation.