Women wary of anti-poverty schemes

Deepti KC | Updated on October 23, 2014

Incorporating women: Greater awareness and tangible results are factors toconsider. AKHILESH KUMAR

They drop out on account of cultural taboos and lack of follow up efforts by implementing agencies

Despite opportunities and systematic community-driven handholding support from the Government and non-government bodies, women might still choose not to participate in the economic development process. Under the purview of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, the world’s largest poverty alleviation initiative, the Government and NGOs are targeting women from the poorest households in the economic development process. One such project is the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP) or Project JEEViKA.

Implemented in select districts of Bihar, the project facilitates the formation of women-based self-help groups (SHGs) federated at the village level to form village organisations (VOs). VOs receive investments from the project and play a vital role in implementing livelihoods interventions. Additionally, village resource persons (VRPs) are engaged to provide technical assistance to SHG members.

To understand what influences women’s willingness to participate in economic development programmes, we interviewed 613 SHG women from 24 villages in three districts of Bihar, where the project was introduced more than four years ago. The sample is not representative; ; nevertheless, the challenges we have recognised in these 24 villages could work as lessons for all.

Missing links

Half the women we interviewed were from landless households, and amongst those who owned land, the average land size was not more than half an acre. Thus, the project has been exceptionally successful in mobilising women from the poorest households in its community structure. However, a majority of the women, despite being informed about the livelihoods intervention, were not engaged.

JEEViKA’s most promoted intervention, system of crop intensification (SCI), was adopted only by 27 per cent of women, of whom half had discontinued the service. For many, it was due to lack of adequate land (60 per cent). This casts a serious doubt on the concept of farm innovation alone being the right kind of innovation for women belonging to landless or near landless households. JEEViKA has acknowledged this concern and so it also promotes off-farm and non-farm interventions such as poultry farming, agarbatti-making and so on. However, the data implies that participation has been less than satisfactory. Firstly, cultural barriers and taboos discouraged women from participating. For example, despite being affordable, only 8 per cent took up poultry farming; 43 per cent reported they did not want to share their household space with chickens as it affected their social status within the caste system.

Another constraint was lack of time. The project started the kitchen garden initiative in order to enable women to grow a variety of vegetables in their own premises. The project provides free or subsidised seeds and other technical support. Despite this, only 4 per cent of women adopted the initiative, mainly because many perceived it as requiring extra time and energy, and not providing any immediate income.

At the same time, many women felt that enterprise-based intervention could help them generate immediate income. However, there were no active follow-ups provided. For example, 52 per cent reported that they had been waiting for the agarbatti-making enterprise to start, however, they had not heard about it from the resource persons. This clearly highlights the incongruity between the women’s needs and the opportunities being offered by the project.

Continuous support

We also found that participating women who frequently receive handholding support from resource persons were three times more likely to re-apply the technique. For example, 48 per cent of women who had previously adopted the SCI technique stopped re-applying. Of the women who were visited by the resource persons, 58 per cent re-applied, compared to 31 per cent who had not been visited. What is interesting is that 64 per cent of women who had adopted this technique reported an increase in the productivity of crops, yet this had no significant effect on the re-application.

Lastly, it has been observed that a woman who is in the SHG leadership position or receives support from the village organisations is more than twice as likely to participate in the intervention. The findings of the IFMR study clearly indicates that provisions of well-designed interventions do not guarantee participation. There are many factors that come into play that influence women’s decisions — cultural beliefs, perceived opportunity cost of the intervention, and handholding support they receive from the project’s stakeholders.

The implementers need to be aware of the factors. Failure to do so might not only affect its long-term success, but also systematically exclude the most disadvantaged women from participating in livelihood interventions.

The writer is with the Institute for Financial Management and Research

Published on October 23, 2014

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