Widows’ Self-help Groups in North India: A Tool for Financial and Social Improvement
Background and Aims: Widows in India face immense challenges through enduring abuse, discrimination, and poor financial opportunities. Whilst there are many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) undertaking women’s empowerment programs, there is a paucity of literature reviewing their impact. Project Sampan, located in Uttarakhand, India, started by helping widows form self-help groups and provides financial education and agricultural skills training as well as group and private counselling. This study aims to evaluate the experiences of participants in the Sampan widows’ empowerment program.
Methods: This qualitative study involved conducting seventeen semi-structured interviews between February to March of 2021; fifteen with participant widows and two with program facilitators. Widows who were minimum of 18 years of age and had 18 months of involvement were included. Participants were recruited through convenience sampling. Thematic analysis was undertaken to generate common themes relating to the impact of Sampan on the widows, and triangulation of this data was also conducted with observation diaries kept by program facilitators.
Results: The evaluation revealed four key themes. Firstly, it was found that the agricultural education Sampan provides changed widows’ daily practices, leading to improved produce as well as corresponding sales and an increased opportunity to partake in community business. This has helped improve widows’ confidence, agency, and independence. Furthermore, the microfinancing component of the Sampan program was consistently found to be a strength of the project, providing widows with financial security. Their improved productivity and contribution to their communities has led to increased recognition by society, helping to mitigate some of the social stigma surrounding widowhood. The Sampan program has also strengthened solidarity among widows through opportunities to socialise together.
Conclusions: This evaluation describes the plight of widows in Uttarakhand, who have been historically excluded and financially vulnerable, but are growing in confidence and emancipation though their involvement in Sampan. This study serves to underscore the existing literature about the discrimination Indian widows face and demonstrate the value of self-help groups in empowering widows.
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