In 2000, Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) computerized its banking efforts despite its fears that the sophistication of the IT industry not being poor-friendly. Contrarily, ICNW has had an positive experience of using IT technology in this context..
The installation of software in ICNW towards extension of micro loans in the context of this organization at the outset has helped to double its outreach to the poorest women and save major amount of time to devote to organizing/mobilizing; and outreach efforts to reach many more poor women became a possibility.
Secondly, it has dramatically reduced the processing time of micro finance products scaling down manual ledger operations.
Thirdly, information/knowledge being power has resulted in the efficient field management operations in the WWF/ICNW that in turn could scale up quality of services reducing default.
Fourthly, the cumulative impact of all the above has had the profound impact on both outreach and recovery rates positively contributing to both membership and repayment of loans, making Indian Cooperative Network for Women a financially sound institution.
Fifthly, occupation related disasters are monitored easily for pertinent interventions towards improving the working conditions of women workers.
Sixth, I.T has generated employment with ICNW to over 70 women at CEO, managerial, credit and other operational levels.
IT automated software is operated by young girls from fisher, wage earning families etc. i.e villages/ slums after relevant training and experience.
More importantly, the experiment of IT introduction in WWF/ICNW has turned the pillars of history of Information Technology industry proving that the benefits of sophisticated IT procedures is not the exclusive domain of only the upper class but demonstrated this can enable and benefit the poorer women too, to save their time, enable to plan effectively and stabilize their lives and livelihoods
Benefits to Members
The Impact Study of ICNW: 2008-2013
The internal assessment study for the year 2008-2013 covered 3,000 women members in all its branches (involved in different occupations) and revealed the following socio-economic impacts in their lives.
A sample size of 3000 women members was selected using a two-stage random sampling method. In the first stage, 665 areas were selected at random using equal probability sampling technique.
In the second stage, houses were selected in proportion to the number of houses in each area. A primary enumeration of the houses yielded the sampling frame from which the final sampling was done by adopting the random sampling procedure.
The impact of the credit program, savings, income promotion activities, basic amenities, housing status, empowerment aspects, indebtedness, micro insurance are mentioned below:
ICNW Credit Programme and its Effects
About 52.57% of the respondents have been with the Forum for almost two decades, 40.50% for nearly a decade and 6.93% of the members for more than two decades. The utilization of loan according to the data ranges from business investment starting additional business, paying of old debts, household expenses, children education and marriage. Thus, about 97.73% of the clients have utilized the loan amount for their trade. About 2.83% of the respondent said that they repaid their old debts and 38.40% have invested a part of their loan for their children’s education.
The Forum has facilitated poor women entrepreneurs to diversify, step by step and expand their small businesses for better profits. Members who were handling their business independently alone are now able to generate employment by hiring workers to work for them. Chart – 10 reveals that 43.03% have hired 1-2 workers, 11.60% 3-4 workers and 0.23% have hired more than 5 workers to assist them in their business.
It could be observed from the study that around 88.53% of the women’s business has steadily progressed and 8.76% of the members had their stable business.
The Forum’s financial training creates a positive impact and directs them to utilize the profits wisely. 70.17% had utilized the profit for business expansion, 56.10% had for future savings, 54.60% had purchased business infrastructure, 37.17% for family expenses and 18.17% for their children’s education.
Purpose of Savings
About 100% of the clients have recognized the importance of savings and have started saving in ICNW. The amount saved by the clients is utilized for various purposes. The reason cited for savings is that 46.47% use it for their business improvement, 16.40% for emergency purposes, 14.83% for their children’s education, 9.07% for their children’s marriage, 6.77% to buy plot/land/build houses in future and 6.47% would use it during festivals.
The client’s access to capital opened up new opportunities for business. Nearly 38.70% of the women engage in micro business as their main occupation. Women are able to engage in lucrative businesses due to their ability to obtain the necessary capital from the ICNW/Working Women Forum. Very few clients (0.90%) engage in animal husbandry.
Ownership of Assets
The survey confirmed improvement in the family, welfare and quality of life of the women members. Easily measurable assets such as housing, access to electricity and acquisition of consumer durables indicate substantial improvement in the standard of living of the ICNW/WWF members. The study shows that a major change is towards improvement in housing, where 54.10% own land/ house, 29.10% shops and 25.20% tailoring machines.
It could be found that there is a notable increase in the clients asset in these past five years when compared with the previous years. The reasons for the increase in income are due to the WWF/ICNW intervention/ programmes.
The majority of women (77.33%) have plans to improve their business and 22.67% have no significant plan of expanding them. Out of 77.33%, 48.77% of the members plan to improve their existing business by buying new equipments, 20.40% plan to own shops, 2.93% intend to set up textile business, 2.27% food outlets and 2.47% aim to diversify their dairy and agriculture products.
Gender profile of household
Empowerment signifies increased participation in decision making where women feel capable of making decisions. Women’s participation in decision making in families is an important indicator for measuring their empowerment.
Of the 3000 women members who were of the surveyed, 50% were women headed whereas 36.57% shared leadership and 13.43% were headed by men.
Decision making in the family
Empowerment Aspects: The study also revealed that 50.99% are headed by women, 60% of them crucial decision makers in their family. 89.93% raised their voices and undertook protest march whenever they came across any violence/atrocity against women in their area/community. 93.07% reported to share their assets equally between their daughters and sons. 73.40% supported inter-caste marriages, cent percent supported widow remarriage, 99.90% were against child labour, 90.13% against dowry, 100.00% of the members were against female infanticide and 99.23% against child marriage.
The study reveals that the opinion of women members have been taken into account at the household and community levels ever more than the past. Women members have become more confident and have shown greater solidarity with one other and cooperate with a greater vision and better understanding of the happenings around them. They have learned to work together in their groups and participate equally with their spouse, family in all their activities.
According to the study, over 20.57% of the women involve in decision making with their spouse on matters such as sending their children to schools, asset purchase and so on. They have a greater say since they contribute to the household expenses. The same holds true for product marketing, decision making, day-to-day activities.
ICNW/WWF has increased the respect of its women members within their household and the larger community. The programme has thus empowered women financially as they contribute not only to their household expenses but also in community activities. It has also enabled them to organize for a greater cohesion among themselves and a better participation to voice their opinions.
Improvement in House
Of the 72.60% who live in their own houses, 34.37% had made renovations. Of this 9.43% had extended rooms, 8.57% changed floorings, 7.77% changed roofings, 7.13% cement plastering and 1.47% constructed bathrooms.
The survey also analyzed the extent of women’s control over business as an indicator of the economic empowerment of poor women. The chart– 9reveals that 67.33% of the members manage their business independently and 29.37% manage jointly with their husbands and 3.30% with other family members.
The essential features in developing a transformed society lies in breaking the traditional norms such as social norms, healthcare, etc. The changes associated with development provide the individual with more control over their lives. It enriches their lives by widening the horizons of their choices and freedom.
Positive changes have been witnessed in the social aspects of the members after joining the Forum. The responses show that 97.20% provide good education to their children, 93.20% increased their standard of living, 88.07% increased in social networking with others, 85.43% gained recognition in their families and 81.77% increased their health awareness.
About 100% of the clients have recognized the importance of savings and have started saving in ICNW. The amount saved by the clients is utilized for various purposes. 46.47% utilized the amount for business improvement, 16.40 % for emergency purposes, 14.83% utilized the amount for education of children, 9.07% for children’s marriage, 6.77% for buying land/building house.
Income Promotion Activities
There have been positive results in the skill training of food/chemical processing which improved their livelihood activities. The clients produced the products and sold them in their neighbourhood and small shops. Nearly 65.63% of the clients have enhanced their skills. 79.03% were able to enhance their income, 54.87% of the clients were able to provide employment for others.
The living standards of clients have been enhanced after joining the Forum. 88.93% of the clients have access to electricity, 70.07% have gas supply, 47.53% have water connection at home and 95.13 % are able to provide good food.
Nearly 72.60% live in own houses. 61.93% live in pucca(well built) houses and 34.30% have made improvements in their houses (8.57% changed flooring, 9.43% extended rooms, 7.77% changed roofings and 1.47% constructed bathrooms).
The study also revealed that 50.00% are headed by women, 60% of them are crucial decisions makers in their family. 89.93% raised their voices and undertook protest march whenever they came across any violence / atrocity against women in their area / community. 93.07% reported to share their assets equally between their daughters and son. 73.40% supported inter-caste marriages, cent percent supported widow remarriage, 99.90% were against child members were against female infanticide and 99.23% against child marriage.
The study shows that before joining ICNW 48.97% were unemployed. It was found that after joining the ICNW all the members were able to seek for employment opportunities (hawkers/vendors, service specialists, handloom/handi- craft producers, fish sellers, etc. Before joining the organization 76.23% were indebted to moneylenders/others. But after joining the organization only 8.30% of the respondents have debts.
98.77% of the clients have enrolled in micro-insurance schemes which covers for disability, accident/natural death, scholarship for children’s education, health / maternity benefits, natural calamities etc. 59.80% of the client’s nominees benefited from the insurance claims, 28.80% have invested for their children education, 13.37% have deposited it in the bank, 6.40% for medical expenses, 9.97% for household expenses and 1.27% for children’s marriage.
Today ICNW is a vehicle of social change to organize the most oppressed and the deprived sections of Indian society particularly in the rural areas and in the unorganized sector. It has contributed towards increasing bargaining power of the poorest of borrowers and could infuse confidence that they too could achieve and raise their standard of living particularly by a process of self-help. The major achievement has been that it could generate consciousness among those sections who have been culturally isolated and reduced to marginal existence in their struggle for survival.
These qualities greatly enhance their self-respect. This, along with the collective consciousness born out of the group system, gives the strength for collective action, improves articulation, generates power to overcome obstacles and achieve their objectives, hence reflecting their empowerment. The success of struggles on local issues brings forth a resolve to participate in issues such as municipality / middlemen / police action that are in the wider national interest.
The lesson from the shifting paradigm is that since poor women are the central actors on our stage, both poverty and gender subordination must be transformed by vision.
Details of Working Women's Forum (India) and
the Indian Co-operative Network for Women Ltd., Portfolio Report as on 31st December 2019