Status of Women in India
Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t just about making money for Prosperity Rings borrowers. Having her own means of support brings a woman a great amount of respect, status, and clout. Over the past 12 years, Prosperity Rings has heard the stories of and done case studies with hundreds of our borrowers, many of whom have suffered physical and mental abuse and violence.
Women’s plight of subservience and mistreatment in India finally reached the attention of the world when Reuters.com published a research study indicating that women in India have the worst circumstances for living of all the G20 countries. Cases of brutality toward women in India have also been featured recently in the international press.
The goal of Prosperity Rings through its loans, its counseling and its business training is to enhance the overall existence of our borrowers and their families. Therefore, during this year’s monitoring visit, we conducted a poll to learn how becoming entrepreneurs with micro credit loans has affected the status of borrowers’ living circumstances. We questioned seven groups, with a total of 57 women. Fifty-six women said that before receiving the loan and becoming entrepreneurs, they were, to some degree depressed, disrespected, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, and isolated — not venturing far from home.
After receiving the loan, the 56 vociferously and surely, bobbing their heads in true Indian style, confirmed that they were happy, respected (the most enthusiastically positive response), much more confident, and had more authority and desire to move about the community—sometimes far from home.
They claim courage and clout, with economic stability, through businesses of their own, with 52 of them having become group and/or community leaders, with the status to make important community decisions. For example, one group was able to arrange for a bus, which previously whizzed past their village, to stop now for passengers from that village. None of them reported sexual abuse — this was in the presence of their group members. Although 9% reported physical violence and 12% experienced mental and emotional abuse, only one had not been able to change her situation after receiving the loan. Prosperity Rings is now requiring its partners, together with their borrowers, to establish a protocol for groups to use when dealing with violence and abuse.
Every year we have sat down and talked one on one with a considerable number of borrowers whose husbands are alcoholics and harm them. Government liquor shops have sprung up in small villages with required sales quotas. The caste system is used to excuse mistreatment of Dalits and other lower castes. Uncles and cousins claim that they are entitled to first choice among their teen-aged relatives as wives and force the marriage. The young wives, already having had to produce a dowry, are habitually considered to be chattel. Failure to make good on the dowry is considered a legitimate excuse to incur violence, sometimes lethally. The women have very little recourse for help, protection, and justice.
In our small way, Prosperity Rings volunteers, with our professional backgrounds in counseling and business management, are able to work with the borrowers to empower them with economic stability, techniques to protect themselves, and ways to handle obstreperous people and circumstances. They will also, as a group, protect and stand by each other.
To give some background and context regarding the inability of women to appeal for justice and protection under the law, one quarter of State Ministers (MPs) face criminal charges, including rape and murder, and bribe their way out of punishment. Police and judicial officials are corrupt and “foster and embed a disrespect for the principle of the rule of law,” according to the The Australian, January 12, 2013, article by Professor Ramesh Thakur.
“In spite of numerous laws, India is badly governed, almost to the point of being a functional anarchy,” states the February 8th article “Ending law’s empire in India” published by Livemint and The Wall Street Journal.