News / Asia

Microfinance Gives Voice to Rural Indian Women

Microfinance Gives Voice to Rural Indian Womeni
March 12, 2013 5:38 PM
India has a checkered history with microfinance. In 2010, a series of suicides among borrowers’ in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh sparked a nationwide backlash against the industry. VOA New Delhi correspondent Aru Pande has more on how one group is reviving microfinance’s tarnished image by focusing, not on profits, but on promoting gender equality among rural women in the north.
A series of suicides among borrowers’ in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh two years ago sparked a nationwide backlash against the microfinance industry.
Aru Pande
India has a checkered history with microfinance. In 2010, a series of suicides among borrowers’ in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh sparked a nationwide backlash against the industry. One group is reviving microfinance’s tarnished image by focusing, not on profits, but on promoting gender equality among rural women in the north.

It all started eight years ago with a $1,000 loan to buy buffaloes. Shahnaz Begum, who had never earned a penny in her life, suddenly had a source of income, a way to educate her children and a newfound voice.

“I have confidence now that, being a woman, I can do something,” she said. Shahnaz’s story was unheard of in parts of Haryana state a decade ago.

In India, just 26 percent of women are employed. And, in the villages of Mewat district, women rarely step out of their homes, let alone start their own business.

Shyam Panchal is a mother of four who runs a dairy with the help of a microfinance loan from the non-governmental organization Deepalaya.

“Before, I couldn’t even go to the bank or talk to anyone, ever since I joined Deepalaya, I can talk to anyone,” she said.

T.K. Mathew co-founded Deepalaya in 1971, originally to educate underprivileged children in New Delhi slums. He says decades of work helped him realize that the community’s economic potential is strongly tied to the empowerment of women.

“We said, all right, if you empower the mother, the children will be safe. So, from that point of view, we started interacting with the mothers and we realize they are a great strength. They have faculties, but this is not being utilized,” Mathew said.

Deepalaya or “House of Light” only provides loans to groups of women who must first pool their savings to contribute to the loan. Unlike other lenders more focused on profits, Mathew says Deepalaya's borrowers are charged lower interest rates and given up to 20 months to repay. He says, so far, there have been no defaults among the 900 groups operating in three states.

In a decade, 13,000 women have started 7,000 enterprises that now contribute to a $2 million revolving fund.

Mobena Khan was able to provide her husband with steady employment after buying a horse cart with a microfinance loan. She now sees a difference in the way she is treated at home.

“He [my husband] used to fight with me, now he respects me. Now he talks nicely to me and keeps me happy,” said Khan.

And, for those who mistreat their wives, women like Shahnaz Begum use their earnings to fight domestic violence cases. Some two-thirds of married Indian women fall victim to such abuse.

“If someone tries to harm us, because people try to keep women down, we no longer put up with this injustice," said Begum. "We go wherever we have to go, raise our voices, even file court cases.”

These women also say they now see a different future for their daughters - one that involves an education and employment and not necessarily an early marriage.

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Comment Sorting
by: Bruce from: D.C.
March 21, 2013 11:18 AM
I would like to strongly endorse VoA coverage of Deepalaya's involvement in the Mewat village. I visited this village and saw first hand how this microfinance project offers opportunity to these women who live without running water or electricity, or other basic needs. Through a translator, the women described before Deepalay got involved, the men would make moonshine and not seek migrant work [the only work available.] Once women became serious in their occupations, the men became motivated.

Child Welfare League of America and Deepalaya partnered through a grant from US Department of State. Delegates from both countries visited programs on an exchange. I can say after 40 years of work in the field of child welfare, Mr. Mathew and his talented staff are inspirational on an international level. Deepalaya is known throught the world for their commitment to educating the marginalized, outreaching to
girls as they believe 'change a girl and you change the family." Now we see how focus on girls can begin to change a whole community.

In the news we learn of India's huge problems with violence against girls and women, child labor, child marriage. While India grows so quickly in so many positive ways, there is no safety net for people in villages or other marginalized populations. Culturally people will struggle to access some level of education for sons, but only expect daughters to marry. When girls become empowered, society changes.

The project in Mewat is only a small part of Deepalaya. I would encourage anyone interested in the welfare of children or community development or education or gender equality or "differently abled" to check on-line to see how progressive this organization is... and I would encourage you to consider visiting Deepalaya. Our delegates described the exchange as "life changing."

In closing I want to note how Deepalaya is so different from well known international charitable organizations. There are no huge salaries, not even big ones; there is no expensive advertising. There is a commitment to accountability and transparency, and every dollar is targeted to projects or individual sponsorships as the donor designates. Deepalaya is US tax deductible.

by: Ronna from: New York
March 20, 2013 9:21 PM
On a US - India exchange program focusing on child welfare, we had the opportunity to visit this village and see how Deepalaya enables women to better their lives through entrepeneurship. It is important to note that Deepalaya is the largest NGO in Delhi, highly trusted for their policies of transparency, and that contributes to the success of their microfinance project, unlike other programs that have not been sustainable due to abusive bank practices.
Haryana is a rapidly transforming city with jobs in call centers, modern housing and shopping centers. Deepalaya runs a residential educational program there for children with parents who are unable to care for them.
Nearby are villages without electricity, running water, heat... An Indian film describes it well: 'turn the corner in India and you go back 500 years.' Parents in these villages are farmers, sometimes they migrate to construction sites where they crush rocks, make bricks, carry heavy loads. They have had no opportunity for their own education.
We celebrate International Womens Day this month. Every day is gender equality day at Deepalaya. As Mr. Mathew states in the video, empowering women changes society, and the policy in Deepalaya programs is to provide outreach so girls acquire education. Indigent parents attempt to send their boys to school, but the cultural expectation is that their daughters will marry. Very poor parents may marry off their daughters at age 4 or 5 because they are unable to support them. Every day there is news of horrible cases of domestic abuse, violence against young women, even dowry deaths. Consider sponsoring girl children so they can attend school or contributing to microfinance enterprises through Deepalaya. You can make a difference, and it is tax deductible. See

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