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Can Microfinance Empower Women? Self-Help Groups in India

Redefining women’s empowerment in the context of microfinance
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This article analyzes the impact of self-help groups (SHGs) on womens empowerment in India. It interprets the World Banks definition of empowerment in the South Asian context, and argues that empowerment occurs when women challenge existing norms to effectively improve their well-being. The article presents different perspectives on womens empowerment. It examines the relationship between microfinance and empowerment, and studies the impact of the SHG-bank linkage program in India on women. The article analyzes data collected from five states in India in 2000 and 2003 through focus group discussions and interviews with SHG participants. It identifies three types of activities involving women that lead to greater efficiency, namely:

  • Efficiency-improving activities culturally considered to be within the womans domain;
  • Community-driven development activities taken up by SHG members;
  • Activities that empower women.

The article states that SHGs, where a majority of groups are linked through NGOs that provide technical and financial support, have a greater ability to empower women compared to minimalist microfinance programs. SHGs can ensure lasting empowerment by placing greater emphasis on training, education and awareness-building.

About this Publication

By Swain, R.
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