Women in Maharashtra’s Latur and Osmanabad districts have set a new example of empowerment. About 25 years ago, an earthquake had shattered the lives of people. Around 52 villages of the two districts suffered great damage. But the women of the region stood strong and took it as a challenge to restore their houses and in turn became entrepreneurs. Over the years, nearly one lakh women have set up self-help ave groups (SHGs).
Turning Tragedy into Opportunity
The women took training in entrepreneurship, marketing and finance of agricultural and non-agricultural small scale businesses. NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) trained around 41,000 women to take up organic farming on their family’s lands.
Talking about the changing scenario to PTI, SSP head Prema Gopalan said, “The women farmers have earned revenue of Rs 516 crore over the last few years as the cost of production of food crops is less than cash crops like sugarcane.”
She added, “After one year of the earthquake, a Government Resolution was issued for appointing ‘Sanvad Sahayaks’, or the community resource person, to help in the reconstruction of the damaged houses.”
The NGO formed a group of Sanvad Sahayaks. These volunteers were trained to monitor the reconstruction and repairs of houses and interact with engineers and contractors on design of these houses. However, including women was not a piece of cake. They were reluctant to come out of their kitchens.
Godavari, an SSP worker, said, “It took us nearly two years to talk to the women and make them aware of their role in decision-making. They took the lead when they realized that the reconstruction of houses was not to their liking and the money given to beneficiaries was misused by men in the families.”
Gopalan said the sanvad sahayaks helped in identifying beneficiaries, locating widows and senior citizens at risk.
The SSP Program Director Upamanyu Patil said, “Houses were reconstructed using earthquake-resistance technology. The sanvad sahayaks monitored the construction work.”
Gopalan also added that recognizing women of these villages as farmers and giving them land rights is a long route in their empowerment. Women are now in charge of food, water and animal security, which has resulted in improved health and nutrition of these families, she noted.
Women Take Charge
Archana Bhosale, a farmer from Tuljapur village in Osmanadabd, said that she began with organic farming of food crops and pulses. Currently, she is one of the directors of a company, a consortium of SHGs in the district. The company manages production of these crops, their certification, processing as well as sales.
Hanumant Bhalerao, Bank of India Manager in Solapur district, mentioned that in 2017-18 the branch sanctioned Mudra loan to 101 individuals, including 28 women and 45 SHGs.
Laxmi Fulsunder, a resident from Sastur village in Osmanabad, shared her experience of the 1993 tragedy. She was alone at home with her children when the earthquake hit. Later, she began working in a ‘balwadi’ (state-run kindergartens) of the local zilla parishad at Rs 100 a month.
She shares, “My husband had no work, so my in-laws kept me away. The crisis came as an opportunity for me as I got to work with the other survivors.”
Megha Thadani is an Intern with Shethepeople.tv