India – Women’s Groups

Increased opportunities for single women families in Tamil Nadu

Perambalur, Ariyalur, Trichy and Kancheepuram Districts, Tamil Nadu, India

Women’s support groups

This project works to improve the financial independence for 1156 single women-headed families in 35 rural villages in four districts. The program also supports improved child education and leadership outcomes through Child Parliament Groups.

According to 2011 National Census data, at least 12 in 100 households in Tamil Nadu are headed by widows, this is in comparison to 9 in 100 households as the national average. The high number of widows is attributed to several factors, including deaths from alcohol addiction and the large gap in age between husband/wife.

Alcoholism has been a contributing factor to a rise male deaths and incidence of domestic violence. The Tamil Nadu state government owns TASMAC, a company with the monopoly on alcohol sales. There are currently 2500 government controlled TASMAC alcohol vending shops in Tamil Nadu and in 2014/15 revenue from alcohol sales contributed to 26% of State tax revenue.

Life in rural Indian communities is typically male led, creating economic and social dependency, leaving women powerless if they become single. Widows, who have not only lost their husband, also face negative social stigma associated with being single. Superstition fuels beliefs that widows, divorcees and single women are ‘bad luck’.

They are frequently subjected to discrimination, impacting on their psychological state, dignity, self-esteem and physical health. Deprived of equal rights and opportunities to participate in daily life, they face isolation and poverty. Financial instability and lack of job security has forced these families to live in challenging conditions. Subsequently, their children also suffer from low self-esteem, bullying and health issues.

The project is an integrated income, health, education and life skills program, implemented through Women’s Support Groups. Groups meet monthly and women participate in a structured program to build confidence, self-esteem, raise awareness of women’s rights and provide long-term skill development through livelihood and financial training and access to loans.

The program includes practical skill training in tailoring, farming and food processing to provide women with skills to generate an income and psychosocial support to encourage their participation in the community to restore pride.

The program also raises awareness of government support schemes: e.g. widow’s pensions, disability pension, subsidies for toilet construction, direct linkage loans and includes broader community education on inclusive development.

This program provides awareness, education and skill support in the following areas:

  • Livelihood options
  • Health and nutrition
  • Human rights and gender equality
  • Child protection and child rights
  • Sanitation and hygiene education
  • Decision making
  • Self confidence & self awareness
  • Awareness of Government support schemes
  • Kitchen gardens
  • Leadership training

The project has established 34 women’s support groups and 16 children’s parliament groups. The also program conducts regular family visits and counselling sessions to create better opportunities for widows, divorcees and spinsters to have a fuller life. As a result, women have been able to take part in public activities and functions and take an active role in decision-making process through their support groups.

Updated November, 2016

Above: Mrs Sagaya and Mrs Unaseeli from Vekatachala Puram, were motivated to construct toilets through our program creating awareness of government support schemes. Now their family members are happy they can have healthy and proper sanitation facilities.

 “Before we were afraid to speak with other people. Before, if we go out we got comments. Since we now have an income we don’t get any comments.”

The women pictured above now earn an income from selling milk and have sired a calf.  They have been trained in cow / goat raising, organic farming and tailoring, as well as financial literacy and given access to loans.

Above: We support families headed by single women by providing livelihood training and facilitating microfinance for income generation. Support groups are set up where women can also learn about important factors such as menstrual hygiene, gender equality and are encouraged to participate in decision making. This picture was taken at an orientation workshop for one of our support groups.