Exploring the Transformative Potential of Digital Solutions for Women’s Empowerment Collectives in Chhattisgarh
Self Help Groups (SHGs) of women have played a major role in sensitising and empowering women in India by enhancing their collective decision making, building capacity for increased participation, and instilling greater leadership. They have and continue to serve as significant platforms for enabling and involving women in a participatory development model, while transforming gender dynamics within the family and society at large. Initially started as saving and credit groups comprising 15-20 women, SHGs in India have evolved into significant platforms for scaling up women’s livelihoods, giving them a voice in the community including in community decision making, and in transforming gender dynamics within the members’ families.
Despite the large body of evidence around the positive impact of SHGs, SHG and federation promoting programmes face some challenges that limit their potential. These challenges further hinder group solidarity and participatory learning among members. Among these are:
- Lack of information and access to government entitlements;
- Poor record-keeping leading to unavailability of credit to members and non-functional bank accounts;
- Inability of women to attend meetings regularly;
- Unequal dynamics within the group with regard to caste, religion leading to control of resources in the hands of few members; and
- Issues with regard to transparency and governance.
In recent times, an increasingly large number of digital tools are emerging, holding the promise of disseminating information, providing easier access to services and connecting women with each other and SHG institutions. Innovative digital solutions can in fact help address mobility, cost and literacy barriers and significantly increase the penetration of benefits promised by collectives.
IWWAGE plans to use some of these digital tools to address the challenges faced by SHGs using Chhattisgarh as a pilot state. More specifically, IWWAGE is working with Chhattisgarh’s State Rural Livelihoods Mission (Bihan) and other key stakeholders in the ecosystem to generate evidence and test how digital solutions can enable SHGs to strengthen women’s social and economic empowerment.
The following projects are being undertaken under this pillar of work.
Identifying digital use cases for scaling up
IWWAGE collaborated with Dalberg to identify the most promising digital use-cases to amplify the impact of SHGs in Chhattisgarh across areas of livelihoods; intra SHG processes; convergence; governance; financial inclusion; business skills and social outcomes.
Linking SHG women to Digital Tools
IWWAGE is partnering with Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions Private Limited (HESPL), a mobile app platform, to link SHG women in Chhattisgarh to digital tools to facilitate their access to government schemes entitlements, as well as to increase the quantum of benefits available per women. Under this project, HESPL will train 5000 SHG women on an innovative mobile application that provides a ready reference of more than 200 central and state government welfare schemes and programmes. The app provides information on the eligibility criteria, documents and application process required and the related incentives/benefits. In addition, it also gives information on the application process for essential documents such as PAN card, Aadhaar, disability certificate etc.
The trained women – or the Haqdarshikas – in turn become community-level entrepreneurs, creating awareness about government schemes among other SHG women, and promoting access and uptake of such entitlements.These Haqdarshikas make door-to-door visits to help poor women discover and apply for schemes, for a nominal fee directly paid to them by the applicants to avail the Haqdarshika’s services i.e. screenings and applications conducted on the Haqdarshak mobile application. The model, therefore also promotes employment of women in rural areas, and gives poor applicants direct access to information about government programmes, who otherwise have to rely on other, more resourceful people in their village or their SHG leaders for such information. LEAD at KREA University will be conducting an impact and process evaluation of the Haqdarshak programme, for IWWAGE in Chhattisgarh. This evaluation is designed to answer the following questions:
- Was the intervention successful in achieving its objectives, i.e. in increasing uptake of government schemes in target communities and in increasing the social and economic empowerment of the Haqdarshikas?
- Is the Haqdarshak model an efficient model to promote entitlements to the last mile? What is its potential for scale up? What are its limitations, challenges and strengths? What are the conditions for success identified from the implementation of the project?
- How does the Haqdarshak model impact the existing touch-points for the government entitlements? Does it lead to a more efficient system of government entitlement access and application? Or does it create competition among the different players?
- What is the long-term sustainability of this model for the Haqdarshikas?
Understanding information flows among women collectives and the role of technologyEPoD is undertaking a study for IWWAGE in Chhattisgarh to unpack the role digital innovations and technology can play in boosting the groups’ empowering impact on women’s lives. Specifically, the study aims to explore:
- Barriers that prevent women from participating in SHGs, village federations and cluster federations;
- Dynamics of SHGs in terms of interactions and information flow between group members, the role of group leaders, as well as the relationship between groups and clusters, in terms of production and consumption; and
- Potential for digital innovations to facilitate women’s access to and participation in SHGs, as well as the interactions and information exchanges within groups, in order to encourage the acquisition of new knowledge, and potentially improve women’s bargaining power.
Hold the phone: Evidence to unlock the gender transformative potential of mobile technology
EPod is undertaking a study for IWWAGE to assess how encouraging women to engage with mobile phones, shapes their networks and their participation in women’s collectives. Specifically, the study will assess whether a women-centered health use case for phones called Mor Awaaz which has been rolled out in Chhattisgarh and which provides health information to women via pull-push calls, can reshape how women communicate with one another and organise themselves.
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