Education and Microcredit

Nirantar’s work in the field of gender and education has involved looking at and creating learning opportunities for adult rural women. Around the year 2000, our explorations revealed that learning opportunities, including literacy, and the spaces and processes required for undertaking the journey of empowerment, are shrinking for adult women.

At the same time, the discourse on empowerment had been shifting in a manner that excluded aspects of social and political rights of women and focused only on financial efficiency and sustainability. Similarly, within the discourse on development, the onus for poverty reduction was increasingly being put on poor women. Yet another example of reducing State accountability was emerging as an accompanying feature of the neo-liberal paradigm for development.

Our explorations into the study of gender and education for adult rural women led us to understand in greater depth the ‘self-help group (SHG) phenomenon’ in India. We found that all the claims that are being made about SHGs, microcredit and empowerment were not translating into reality at the grassroots level. We came to realise that SHGs are not another development issue. Rather, it is a phenomenon that has significantly changed the way we see ‘empowerment’ and ‘poverty alleviation’ and, in a sense, the way in which we have begun to see ‘women’.

Recognising this, in 2001 Nirantar began creating a space for reflection and discourse in a context in which no such space existed. Our intervention began with research studies. We took learnings from the studies to fellow feminists, researchers, development practitioners, educationists and the State. We created and also proactively used existing fora in order to generate an alternative discourse on the SHG phenomenon from the grassroots level up to the national and international level.