India: Muslim women from urban Andhra Pradesh depart poverty when given access to credit Print E-mail
 Sunday December 21 2008

Fighting urban Poverty

R Akhileshwari in Hyderabad
Several thousand women are members of the twin cooperative organisations of Roshan Vikas Thrift Cooperative and Mahila Sanatkar and are assured of access to credit and the market that has translated into economic empowerment of women and their families


Ameerunissa recalls how her world revolved around her home and five children and she had never even stepped out of her house till her husband died. Then it fell upon her to take care of her children. Mahila Sanatkar, an NGO, came to her rescue. “I could only cry,” she told Deccan Herald. “I had no confidence that I could do anything. “I never travelled in a train till I joined Mahila Sanatkar. But slowly the fear disappeared and today I travel independently, taking young girls to cities and towns, displaying our products,” said Ameerunissa with modesty. Things changed and today as a garment designer and an expert she has travelled to so many cities that she has lost count. Ameerunissa’s biggest day was when she bought, along with four other women, a high-speed sewing machine costing about Rs 15,000, the first asset she bought with her own earnings. She works on her machine in the Mahila Sanatkar workshop. Last year her group took an order from Fab India for 200 kurtas and made a profit of Rs 8,000 per member.

Such is the change in Ameerunissa that she says she will not get her daughter, who is a topper in school, married till she goes through college education although she is getting several proposals.

Access to classy joints

Several thousand women are members of the twin cooperative organisations of Roshan Vikas Thrift Cooperative and Mahila Sanatkar and are assured of access to credit and the market that has translated into economic empowerment of women and their families. While Roshan Vikas is the financial wing, Mahila Sanatkar focuses on equipping poor women with skills like the traditional zardozi embroidery (using zari thread and unique stitches that are typically the tradition in Muslim households of the Old City of Hyderabad) and helps them to access the market for their products. Thanks to the intervention of the Mahila Sanatkar, out of the 36 different stitches that had been lost in the last 50-60 years due to modernisation leaving only two basic ones in use, as many as 30 stitches have been revived in the last three years. The kurtas of Mahila Sanatkar, embroidered by the poorest of women in the Old City, can now be found in upmarket stores like Fab India and Lifestyle. The income of the women has seen a 300 per cent increase. The increase in their mental strength is incalculable.

Greater say in family
Ali Asghar, CEO of Roshan Vikas, sums up Roshan Vikas philosophy: Involving women in income generation activities and routing credit through them to the family puts women in a good position to negotiate within the family for a say in decision making which she never had before. Roshan Vikas believes that capital accumulation is a pre-requisite for poverty reduction and went about organising women into self-help groups to enable them to contribute to the family income. From 164 SHGs with 3,415 members in 2003-04, today there are 1,000 SHGs with 15,000 members in Roshan Vikas. The concept of SHGs is widely popular in AP which has the largest number of SHGs in the country. However most are in rural areas and Roshan Vikas has stepped in to meet a pressing need of the urban poor. A group of 10-15 women is formed with each member contributing Rs 30 a month. The group builds up its capital for six months after which the members can take a loan at nominal interest. A group with a good record can avail itself of bigger loans from either the Roshan Vikas Thrift Cooperative or a commercial bank which is then disbursed to the women who sought the loan. Most loans are taken to set up small businesses like making mehendi, setting up a bangle store, making pickles and so on. SHG members become automatically members of the cooperative.

It is not easy to be a Muslim and a woman. Asghar points out that all socio-economic indicators of the Muslims are among the lowest in the population, on a par with the SCs. As many as 40 per cent of the Muslims are below poverty line with another 40 per cent transiting between poverty. The literacy rate among them is low with barely 25 per cent of the children of school going age in the school. The situation of the Muslim girls is pathetic with less than 10 per cent of them passing the 10th class. A majority of the Muslim population lives in urban areas with as many as 64 per cent of them living in slums.

Most of them are self-employed running small businesses like vegetable or fruit vending or are artisans in the unorganised sector. Interestingly enough, the unorganised sector accounts for 40 per cent of the city’s GDP and yet the people in this sector are outside the purview of any kind of institutional help.

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