Lady 1 : “I am able to stand in front of you and talk.”
Lady 2 : “My husband has asked me many a times if i can give him a loan for his business.”
Lady 3 : “I own a business. My earning helps to make the ends meet.”
Lady 4 : “My children go to schools. They can speak English as well.”
Just then, her daughter (must be around 8-9 years old) gets up and asks us (the interns from IFMR) in English, “How are you?” We were amazed to see her confidence – getting up at once and very confidently asking us (who are strangers to her) questions in English.
Lady 5 : “Sometime back, the Panchayat was allotted a land by the State Government for carrying out social welfare activities. But a Panchayat authority was using it illegally for his personal purpose in the name of social welfare activities. Our group went to the taluka (block) authorities to notify and register a complaint against it, but in vain. We immediately went to the district authorities and complained about the same. We notified them that if proper action is not taken within stipulated time, we are ready to go the state level authorities. Within a very short time, we got back the land for carrying out our weekly/monthly group meetings (Self-Help Group meetings). And very soon, the MLA of our village walked into one of our meetings, gave us a donation of Rs. 500,000 to construct a structure on the land allocated to us for meetings. He suggested giving the land on rent when we are not using it and utilize the income generated out of it for our lending purposes.”
Lady 6 : I am was strictly confined to the walls of my house. Now, i can come here and be a part of this group. My family has no objections to it. I am earning now.
Someone has rightly said, the prosperity of a household lies in the prosperity of its lady. On June 13, 2009, as a part of our Total Immersion Program, we (the interns at IFMR) went to few villages in Kanchipuram District, which is around 85 kms from Chennai. This field visit was meant to help us understand the impact of microfinance on low income households. And the above quoted are few of the many responses to my questions asked in many of the group meetings we joined in. Ones which really amazed my fellow interns and me were the replies by Lady 1 and Lady 2. This is what I define to be “Empowerment of women”. And this is what we need in India. The “inclusive growth” agenda around which a lot of hulabbo has been created (needless to mention how the talks on ‘inclusive growth’ have been a topic to be discussed about in the luxurious rooms of 5 Star hotels and at 7 Course dinners) during the last couple of years can be achieved if women are empowered. And I see microfinance to be one of the key driving factors to it. The confidence of those women in all the groups, their attitude towards working for the economic upliftment of their households was commendable. One lady even told us, “Madam, Sirs, you know what. You have come to meet us because we are a group. Because we are strong as a group and working efficiently and effectively towards the betterment of our households. Because now, we are able to match up our shoulders with our men.”
I believe that the question confronted by every microfinance practitioner, academia, researcher, “Is microfinance really creating a substantial impact on the lower income households?” can now be answered. Though microfinance is evolving gradually, it cannot be ignored that empowerment of women by way of microfinance will help us achieve an inclusive growth that we all have been dreaming of.