JEEViKA's journey to empowering its women
The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP), colloquially known as JEEViKA, has been a face of change in Bihar in the past few years. The project was initiated by the Government of Bihar to alleviate poverty in the state and provide innovative models for sustainable and improved livelihood opportunities to rural households. This was aimed to achieve by mobilizing women from poorest households, into community institutions called self-help groups (SHGs).
Being the third most populous state in the country (9% of the total population), Bihar has had to face umpteen problems around poverty, illiteracy and under development. In 2006, the state's rural poverty ratio was 44.6%, 2.3 million people were impoverished due to high-cost debt from food, health and educational expenses. Women's social and economic status was particularly inferior within rural households. Without proper engagement with rural communities, it became difficult for the government to provide access to better livelihood opportunities, financial aid or public services. Seeing the enormity of the problem, the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project was jointly initiated in 2006, by the Government of Bihar and the World Bank to mobilize women into community institutions, i.e., SHGs. The project began in 42 blocks in 6 high poverty districts, based on the adverse status of women, high concentration of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population. In 2012, the project expanded by 60 more blocks after receiving a strong response in the first phase. By 2016, the program expanded to other 366 blocks and ambitiously targeted the formation of 150,000 self-help groups. Presently JEEViKA is working in 534 blocks of the 38 districts and has been able to form 1,048,647 SHGs, through which rural households can access low-cost credit, leverage services from banks, and gain information and training on improved livelihoods in the agricultural and non agricultural sector.
How the "Didis " of Jeevika have become the real agent of change.
The term "Didi", used to address an elder sister in northern India, embodies the sense of respect given to an elder sibling. In JEEViKA the term is formally used to address SHG members to spread collegiality and break all social barriers of caste, religion or age. 10-12 women in a village form an SHG that provides them a mechanism for savings and borrowing. These SHGs in a village are federated to form a Village Organisation that are responsible for development projects and provide funds for health, education and skill building through Community Investment Funds. Through their participation in BRLP, SHG women have gained a voice and have created an identity beyond their gender roles. They have been able to build up vast savings, own loan funds and build up a capital. More than 85% of the SHGs have a savings account and 75%1 have accessed institutional credit at least once. Their increasing role in financial inclusion has not only increased their earning capacity but has also improved their household situation. In VO and SHG meetings women can raise concerns against domestic violence alongside financial ones, then the members act together to help women who have faced violence. The issue of alcoholism received the strongest attention from women followed by child marriage and their children’s education. In 2015, the Government of Bihar made a decision and announced the decision to ban liquor in the entire state.
JEEViKA is committed to the need for women’s empowerment and is doing every bit to improve their status in the community. More women are raising their voice to seek equal rights and building an identity with bigger aspirations for themselves and their daughters.
1 SOCIAL MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK, BIHAR TRANSFORMATIVE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT