Self Help Groups and Empowerment of Women: Self-selection or Actual Benefits?

Analyzing empowerment levels of SHG group members
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This paper tests the significance of the program effect of self-help groups (SHGs) by comparing empowerment levels of newly inducted and older members of SHGs.

Evidence on SHG success in empowering women is mixed. Researchers argue that such schemes often attract women who are already active in the public domain, so that those who are most in need of assistance remain excluded. The paper is based on a survey conducted in six municipalities in West Bengal, India. It examines whether the group-based microcredit program has been able to empower women and improve their functional capabilities significantly.

Survey results reveal that SHG members were involved in activities like selling garments, handicrafts, trading in rice, embroidery, tailoring, dairy farming and spice making. Findings include:

  • Economic activities of SHG members yielded a substantial income, about a fifth of household income;
  • Often, these activities were already popular before introduction of the microfinance program;
  • 60% of respondents had been engaged in economic activities before joining the microfinance program, but on a part-time individual basis;
  • SHGs contributed by injecting capital into the system and mobilizing individual activities into group-based activities.