Sisters of Mercy of Holy Cross

HC Blog

13th June 2014

Social Engineering for Women Empowerment in India

I was given the opportunity to present a paper from Fatima College Madurai, where I do my graduation on the topic “Social Engineering for Women Empowerment in India” at the state level in which I touched briefly upon the main elements of Social Engineering in favour of women in India. I would like to share with our readers the successful examples of a few women and women’s groups who have managed to bring about social change in women through social engineering in India.

Looking at the history of India both before and after Independence, we find many women who have influenced popular attitudes and social behaviors related to women issues on a large scale. Women have been actively involved in India’s freedom struggle and have held leadership positions. 

Sixty years after Independence, it is true that the lives of millions of women in India have been transformed. Historically, India has been a male-dominated society. Yet, in the past two decades or so, social change has opened the possibility for women to attain leadership roles in political and economic India. 

Amartya Sen, Indian author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, speaks about this transformation of Indian women in his book, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. He points out that the social movement for Indian women had been—until recently—primarily focused on achieving better treatment of women and their well-being: “In the course of the evolution of women’s movement […] women are not passive recipients of welfare-enhancing help brought about by society, but are active promoters and facilitators of social transformations. Such transformations influence the lives and well-being of women, but also those of men and children—boys as well as girls. This is a momentous enrichment of the reach of women’s movement.” 

Amartya Sen’s reflection on the recent change pace of women’s development in India leads us to discuss some concrete examples of individuals and organizations that have brought about revolutionary changes in Women’s empowerment in India. 

The Community Media Trust (CMT)

The Community Media Trust (CMT), based in Pastapur, Medak district, Andhra Pradesh is an exemplary community of women farmers who have taken full charge of their lives and environment. “We don’t know how to read and write but we know how to make films. As we learned to tend our farms, we have now learnt to make videos. The camera is the new sickle in our hands.” These are the words of Chinna Narasamma, Humnapur Laxmamma, Musligari Kavita, Edakulapalli Narasamma and Begari Mollamma who are all active members of this group. Every year the group hosts a traveling biodiversity festival for a whole month during which they show one film every night for that whole month. The biggest impact of this festival at the national level is that it has influenced the National Biodiversity Action Plan.  By their affirmative action, these women have become pioneers of social engineering in rural Andhra Pradesh.

The Lijjat Story

‘Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad’, popularly known as Lijjat, is an Indian women's organization involved in manufacturing various fast moving consumer goods. Lijjat was the brain child of seven semi-literate Gujarati housewives from Bombay. They wanted to start a venture to create a sustainable livelihood using the only skill they had i.e. cooking. The women borrowed Rs 80 from a social worker. On March 15, 1959, they gathered on the terrace of their building and started with the production of 4 packets of Papads.

The organization's main objective is empowerment of women by providing them employment opportunities.  As an experiment, Lijjat has insulated its sister-members from joblessness. At the workplace they are self-respecting, hard-working and sisterly to one another. More importantly, besides the strength of womanhood, Lijjat is also an experiment in the restoration of the essence of womanhood. The Lijjat women offer an alternative to the highly competitive and stressful work environment defined and dominated by men in which a woman competes with a man more as a man than a woman.  

Lijjat Papad does not turn its women into millionaires, but it is the realization of dignified self-employment that is its success. It is considered as one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial initiatives by women that are identified with female empowerment in India. 

Self-Help Groups(SHG)

The concept of Self Help Groups is based on the idea of community participation, as sustainable community development requires the active participation of the entire community. The focus of self-help groups is to develop the capacity of the disadvantaged, particularly women, and to organize them, so that they can deal with socio-political and socio-economic issues that affect their lives. 

SHGs represent an opportunity for effective social engineering and empowerment through women’s involvement in considering, addressing and participating in issues that affect their members and their communities, including issues that affect women in particular. The extent to which this is happening is perhaps less than hoped for – although a beginning is being made. 

Social Engineering through the self-help group model is a potential pathway to alleviating poverty. The number of poor women and men who are enrolling in SHGs all over rural India has been increasing remarkably. They are not only active in thrift and credit management but are also taking up other activities, such as natural resource management and development work, literacy, knowledge management, nutritional security etc. Anyone looking to bring about a social engineering for the women of India needs to look at SHGs as a credible and proven tool of social transformation.

These are few examples of courageous women who have been instruments of social transformation in their own way. The little spark that they lit has grown into brightly burning fires spreading far and wide across the country. In the process, the lives of thousands of women have been changed for the better; the voiceless have been given a voice and a dignified life. They challenge us the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross to become Catalysts of Social Change in our own situations which is the need of the time.

Posted By:Sr. Sangeeta Almeida