The Working Womenís Forum (WWF) is a Non Governmental Organisation organising poor urban and rural women in some states of southern India, Tamil Nadu, Karnatka, Andra Pradesh and Orissa. The WWF is a massmovement to help women fight oppressive situations both in their homes and outside through a process of empowerment. The WWF has a membership of about 250 000 women.

The WWF was founded in 1978 by Mrs Jaya Arunachalam when she was politically active and involved with social work in the slums of Madras. While working with flood relief in the slums, Mrs Arunachalam came in contact with women living there. Most women she talked to had businesses of their own to provide for their familyís needs. When talking to them, she realised that the biggest problem these women faced in their everyday life was the lack of capital. Lack of capital was the number one obstacle to be able to earn money. To finance their businesses they had to borrow money from money lenders. A money lender is a person, usually a man, who lends money at a very high interest rate to poor people. This person often lives in the nearby area. These women are always in debt to the money lender as they are not able to repay the high interest rate and the loan. Some women have to borrow from another money lender to repay their first loan. It is a vicious circle of indebtedness and the women are exploited by money lenders. The money lender earns a lot of money on these women.

The purpose of organising poor women in the Working Womenís Forum was to free these women from a vicious circle of indebtness and exploitation. In the beginning the WWF used the nationalised banks to get credit for the women. In the start the WWF acted as a middleman between the banks and the women. Women who had tried to get loans from banks had had bad experiences. The application forms that have to be filled out have been one obstacle for the women as some cannot read and write very well and they do not know how to fill in these forms. Some women also experienced hostile clerks that treated them as if they were worthless and did not help them at all. The WWF helped them to fill in application forms and to speak to the bank clerks. After struggles with nationalised banks the WWF formed its own bank, the Working Womenís Cooperative Credit Society Limited. It is a co-operative bank which is financed by the membersī own money. The bank is engaged in both mobilising savings from the members and providing credit to them.

The procedure when the members borrows money from the WWFís bank is much less complicated than when borrowing from a National bank. First, the women form a group of about ten members and elect a group leader. Then they go to the Forum and fill in the forms that are needed. The staff at the Forum help the members to fill in these forms. After this process each woman in the group can get her first loan of about 400 rupees (100 rupees was about 25 Swedish kronor according to an Exchange office in Madras, April 1995). This amount has to be repaid in 10 months. The group leader collects the money from the women in her group every month and goes to the office and repays on their loan. It is the group which together is responsible for the loans taken by the members. No one in a group gets another loan before all the group members have paid back their loans. The repayment rate of the loans in the WWF were 98,04 per cent in 1995.

Picture 2: Women borrowing money at the WWF-Office.

Women that have been members for a long time in the WWF also have the opportunity to get bigger individual loans of between 5 000 to 15 000 rupees. This amount is depending on volume of business and interest in the organisationís activities and repayment of loan.

WWF have other programmes then giving credit to their members. These programmes have come about because the member themselves initiated them. After some years with the Forum the members made complaints about their situation of life. Even though they now had a better economic situation they could not support their family in a satisfactory way. Their family sizes were too big, there were too many children to support. The members expressed demands for other help than just credit. The Forum started to recognise the wider social and political implications that the limited womenís economic opportunities exemplify. In 1980, the Forum started its Family- and Health-Programmes. Over the years other social service projects have been set up by the Forum and by several loan groups joining together in a slum area. Examples of other social service projects are: day care centres, night classes, skill training and knowledge about nutrition.The goals of WWF today are as follows:

Dr. Ponna Wignaraja, Co-ordinator in the United Nations University Project on South Asian Perspectives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, says in his book "Woman, Poverty and Resources" that: "The success of the WWF is due to its recognition that poor womenís problems cannot be tackled individually and require organisation into groups."


WWF has been working in the slums of Madras for a long time. We interviewed some of their members to find out what factors affect these womenís everyday life and their work. We also wanted to see what the women could do to improve their life-situation. The following chapter discusses the results from the interviews we made. We have chosen to show the result in six different blocks and not to follow the questions mentioned in the chapter about Method. This has been done because some of the questions we asked are of similar nature and take the same issues into account. Instead the blocks will show the results from all the questions. These six blocks are: Womenís Opportunities to Earn Money, Womenís Working Day, Obstacles Preventing the Women from Increasing their Income, Reasons for Joining the WWF?, Objections from the Family about Membership in the WWF and Advantages of being a Member of the WWF.

10.1. Opportunities to Earn Money

Womenís opportunities to earn money are very much dependent on themselves. Because they are poor and illiterate, they have difficulties in getting paid work on a regular basis. Most of the women we interviewed had businesses of their own. It is usually a smallscale enterprise such as vegetable selling. They often sell their goods at the local market or in their neighbourhood. This list shows what the members of the WWF are working with in the slums of Madras.

Occupation list for the members of the WWF, Madras:

    1. Coconut Sales 20 (persons)
    2. Fish and Dry Fish 850
    3. Idly (rice-cake) 3402
    4. Tailoring 916
    5. Bunkshop 518
    6. Sweet 60
    7. Milk 427
    8. Rice 151
    9. Firewood 125
    10. Flower 1326
    11. Fruits 1404
    12. Mat Weaving 60
    13. Wire bag 750
    14. Vegetable 1449
    15. Tea Stall 160
    16. Bangle 90
    17. Shoes 180
    18. Cut Pieces of cloth 3129
    19. Eggs 120
    20. Weaving 20
    21. Soap Powder 60
    22. Grinding 166
    23. Leaf Making 216
    24. Pickles 155
    25. Appalam (bread) 110
    26. Agrabatis 297
    27. Tender Coconut 54
    28. Juice 205
    29. Beedi (cigaretts) 125
    30. Sarees 891
    31. Provision Store 90
    32. Mutton Sales 121
    33. Cycle Shop 20
    34. Beds 160
    35. Ready-made clothes 40
    36. Garlic 140
    37. Oil Sales 30
    38. Dobby 195
    39. Calcium Kiln 18
    40. Pot Making 15
    41. Binding 60
    42. Tamarind Sales 7
    43. Slipper Making 115
    44. Greens 250
    45. Plastic 375
    46. Cover 45
    47. Curd 95
    48. Turmeric 15
    49. Woollen 5
    50. Meals 105
    51. Lottery tickets 40
    52. Stationery 20
    53. Ghee Sales 25

    Total 19 855 persons

The women in the WWF have many things in common, for instance, they are all very hard-working women and important providers for their familyís income.

10.2. Womenís Working Day

"I get up at four o'clock in the morning and sweep the front of my house and then I do preparations for the business I have. At five thirty, I go to another house and work there for two hours. After that I go back home to get my children ready for school and then I take them there. At nine oíclock, I go to a second household and work there for two hours. Between eleven and two, I am at my own house taking care of washing and cleaning and preparing lunch. Sometimes, I am able to a take rest too. At two o'clock, I go back to the first house and work there until five when my children are coming back from school. In the evening, my children have their evening classes. My business is to sell cut pieces (blouses to wear with a saree), which I do on Saturdays and when my children are studying in the evening. It is my husband who goes to the wholesale market and buys the cut pieces I sell in the neighbourhood where I live. As I sell in the neighbourhood and as the two houses I work in are within walkable distance, I am never far from home or from my children. I work late in the evening with my business and then I also have to prepare dinner for my husband and then for the rest of the family. I go to bed at eleven or twelve oíclock at night."

A woman, 27 years old

This story was told to us during an individual interview with one of the members of the WWF. It is not unusual, we heard several stories like this one. These women work long hours from early morning to late evening. Most of the interviewed women worked seven days a week with their businesses. The husbands of these ladies worked on an average no more than 3-5 days a week. Of course this varies. A few women said that their husbands worked all days of the week while others said it was no more than 1-2 days. On the days the husbands do not work they sit at home doing nothing or they go to the cinema, or drink, or just hang around with their friends.

The women we interviewed worked closer to home than their husbands or they have their businesses in their homes. There were some women who travelled to their work or while doing their business, but they were not so many. A group of women we talked to said that this was due to the fact that Indian men think it is embarrassing to work closer to home than their wives. One woman said that she worked closer to home because she wanted to take care of her house. She also worked closer to home because it is her duty to look after the children, feed them and her husband, do the cooking and cleaning and all the other housework. None of the interviewed women had a husband who was actively involved in the household work. These women do not expect their husbands to do any of the work in the household.

10.3. Obstacles Preventing Women from Increasing their Income

The women we have interviewed and all the other women in low-income households in India have numerous obstacles preventing them in their work and in their every day life. The double burden of being poor and being woman makes it even more difficult for these women to improve their life-conditions. As a woman you get the worst place at the market place and the men do not take your business very seriously. Being a poor women and from a low caste family makes other people in society look down on you. Here are the obstacles the interviewed women told us about.

10.3.1. Credit
Poor women living in slum areas are often illiterate or have just gone a few years to school. That and the fact that they are women and poor makes it nearly impossible for them to get a loan from the banks. Poor women are not considered creditworthy. For many women the only source to get access to credit is through a money lender. Women borrow money at an enormously high interest rate and are never able to pay back the loan or the interest rate. This leaves them in a situation where they are always in the hands of the money lender. All they earn has to be paid to the money lender and they may have to borrow from other money lenders to pay back the first money lender. It is a vicious circle and the women are always in debt The women can barely feed and clothe their family.

"Before I became a member of the Forum I had to borrow money from a money lender to put in to my business. I had no other source to turn to, my relatives were just as poor as I am and the bank would not borrow money to me because I am a woman and living in the slums. To be able to repay my loan to the money lender I had to borrow again from somebody else to pay him back."

A woman, 27 years old

10.3.2 Price rises
"The income I get is not sufficient because of price rises. It is not possible to both provide for my familyís needs and to reinvest in my business from the profit I get."

A woman, 35 years old

Because of NEP and SAP prices have gone up the last 4-5 years which have made it difficult for poor women to earn money. Certain businesses and work opportunities have been more affected than others. The price on rice has gone up very much. Women who have snack shops have been affected by price rises because they use a lot of rice in their businesses. Snack shop owners lose a lot of money because they cannot rise the prices of their snacks as no one will buy from them then.

"The customer will think that we fool them if we rise our prices as much as the rice price have gone up. We have to make a living so we continue to sell our snacks at a low price. This gives us a very low profit, but what can we do?"

Said during a group interview

Even though a woman puts the same amount of money, into her business today, the profit she makes is often less than before the introduction of NEP. Women have problems to get back their investments. The customers refuse to pay more for the goods the women sell. When prices go up, the amount of customers will also decrease. Women selling vegetables, fruits, flowers and greens have been affected because of the higher prices of fuel. This has made the transport of goods more expensive and the women have to pay more for their goods which have been transported by car/lorry. For the women selling sarees and cut-pieces the prices on cloth have also gone up. This means that she nowadays buys less cloth for the same amount money than she did 5 years ago.

"Four years ago I could get 6-7 sarees for 1000 rupees, today I have to pay 3000 rupees for the same number. I buy less cloths today, which means that the profit is less as well."

A woman, 35 years old

A women selling sarees and cut-pieces is not as badly affected by the price rises as for example the snack- shopowner. That could be because the saree-seller can rise the prices of the sarees and still get customers to buy them. The women selling snacks or vegetables have to sell their goods the same day otherwise their goods will get rotten. Saree and cut-pieces are goods which you can keep for a long time and wait for people to buy them. One woman selling snacks says this:

"In the end of the day I have to sell all the goods that are left over at a low price because I cannot save it for the next day, it will get rotten during the night. My only chance to get a profit at all is to sell everything in one day. Sometimes I have the shop open until eleven oĎclock at night."

Price rises seemed to be one of the most serious obstacles for these women to overcome when it comes to increase profit from their businesses.

10.3.3. Lack of education
Lack of education is another problem for these women. It is not only a problem in their business but also in many other ways. We asked the members of the Working Womenís Forum in what way lack of education is a problem for women in their situation.

"Because of lack of education we are here in the slum."

Said during a group interview

One illiterate businesswoman told us:

"I canít get a better job because of a lack of education and I have difficulties in running my business. The customers sometimes cheat me because I cannot read or write. Since I can't write down when I give people credit, I have to remember what people owe me and I don't have anything in writing to prove what people should pay back."

For some women, lack of education is not considered as a big problem, as they have work experience to compensate it with, instead. One woman said:

"In my business, I donít need any education. The knowledge I have is sufficient for doing the work I do."

Some problems also occur in the womenís everyday life. Such a simple thing as travelling by bus can be very difficult for women who are not able to read the numbers on the bus. They cannot travel far from home. Illiterate women can not read letters sent to them and have to ask their neighbours or their children to read their mail for them. Lack of education also excludes women from general information they could get from the newspaper and they are not able to execute their legal rights as they are not aware of them.

10.3.4. Floods
During the monsoon periods some areas in Madras get flooded and problems arise. The physical environment is not satisfactory for the women and their families living in the slums. Their houses are poorly built and there are no proper roads. There is often no sewage, drainage or water pipes. The huts are not strong enough in their structure to resist floods. Water from the drains is coming into their houses and their homes are drowned in filthy water. The women have to move their children to safer places and then the women have to go back to the houses and guard their belongings. Another problem is that the children can not go to school because of the flooded roads. The lowland parts of central Madras is an area which gets flooded during the monsoon rain. The women are affected both in their business and in their everyday life. During the monsoon the businesswomenís goods get damaged or destroyed and there are much less customers to sell to as there are no proper roads to walk on. When it is raining heavily the electricity often goes out and the women can not do their business in the evenings. During this period the women have a loss of income, which can be a very serious problem for the already poor women. It rains for about two months in Madras and it takes about 2-3 months to recover and get back into business again with the same profit as before. Altogether it takes about 4- 5 months for the women before they can run their business as usual again and their profit is back to normal.

"I donít have a proper roof over my shop so I cannot go there and sell when it is rainy season. During the rains my son provides for the household because I do not have any money."

A woman, 42 years old

To prevent these floods from affecting their lives too much some women try to save up money. Other borrow money from money lenders or other sources if things get too bad as the WWF can not provide them all with money or other help. WWF have a special crisis fund which can help the women temporarily but their resources are limited. What the WWF otherwise can do is to let the women postpone a repayment on their loans a couple of times until they are back on the right track again.

"The planning authorities come and investigate what needs to be dealt with in the slums during and after floods. They ask questions and write down our answers, then they leave and nothing happens. Everything stays the same as before they visited. The only thing we have are each other and during floods we try to help each other."

Area organiser in a slum area of Madras

10.3.5. Size of the family
The women we talked to have realised that because their families are too large they are not able to provide their children with for example: nutritious food, clothes and education. When a familyís economy is bad the children may have to work and earn money, therefore some children may be taken out of school. The members of the WWF do know the importance of education for their children and try to keep their children in school as long as possible. Many women told us about the problems with large families and that they are advising their daughters to have small families and tell them about the advantages of having a small family. They also pointed out how important it is with family planning. "A small family is a happy family". During an individual interview a woman told us the following story about the problems with a large family:

"I am the mother of eight children and I have tried to give them a good start in life. Today some of my children live away from home, but the wives of my sons still live with me and I have to provide for them as my sons do not always do that. All together I provide for eleven people. This is not an easy task as I only have the income from my snack shop. One daughter came back to us with her new-born child as her husband had left for France, to find work there. He told her he would send for her and their child later, one year has passed and still they are living under my roof and they are my responsibility. My husband is also dependent upon me for providing for him as he is very old and canít work anymore. It is a good thing though, that he is old, because now he canít beat me anymore. Today he just sits around and do nothing. Before he married me he was married to another woman. But he left her after three years of marriage, when she was twelve as she hadnít given him any children yet. I have given him eight children but still he has always treated me bad. My mother told me to leave him, but I havenít, Iím a Muslim and not supposed to do that. My mother also lives with us and I have to provide for her as well. You ask me how do I manage all this? I tell you, I have to manage, what else should I do? I can say this much: It was the troubles of my life that gave me strength to survive."

10.3.6. Corruption
Corruption is an element occurring in every part of the Indian society. For example, one has to pay to get into University or to get a job. For poor women the system of paying bribes is a problem. A lot of women have to bribe the police, or some other local person with power, to get a spot to sell their things at. In some cases even women who are selling goods from their houses have to pay bribes to the police. The women said that bribes are a problem in most kinds of businesses.

One area had problems with rowdies, men who threaten women to damage their commodities if they do not give them money or something from their goods. Bribes also have to be paid to the local government hospital to get medical treatment, both to doctors and other staff there.

10.3.7. Special occasions
Examples on special occasions are funerals, marriage and dowry. These occasions are a big burden for the familyís economy because it is a lot of money they have to spend, money which they do not have. Poor families are not able to save up for these occasions. The women may have to borrow from others than WWF to manage for example the marriage of their daughters. Following the marriage of a daughter is the tradition of giving dowry which is important to give the daughters a good start with their new families. The gifts to the husbandís family and the other things she brings with her are like a security for the newly married daughter. Mothers believe that if their daughters have gold and valuable things with them, they will be more respected and well treated by their new families.

10.3.8. Problems of alcoholism and wife-abuse
After being in the slums of Madras for some time we understood what a serious problem alcoholism is in these areas. Alcoholic husbands and wife abuse are common phenomena in these womensī lives. The first group we asked about alcoholism told us:

"Why do you ask so shyly ? Thatís our reality, our husbands drink, thatís an everyday problem in our lives."

The groups of women we asked about alcoholism and wife-abuse told us that this is a very big problem for a majority of families living in the slums. In a family where the husband drinks there is less money to buy food and other necessities for the family. This leaves the woman in a position where she has to provide for herself and for her children on her own. One woman told us about her life:

"When we got married my husband looked after me. A few years later he took up the drinking habit. He was terrible to me and my children. He drove us out of the house. He sold my sarees and things from our household to get money for liquor. When he drank he also beat me badly. During this period we starved a lot but luckily we got help and protection from others in the neighbourhood."

10.3.9. Caste
Many working women in the slums of Madras are low caste or Harijans. This gives them a low status among other people and they can be discriminated against because of this. Discrimination and low status could give the women backward spots to do their business at or make them and their families live in a special area for "their group of people". They may not be spoken to by high caste people and in their business high caste people will not buy their food because it is not considered pure or clean if it has been touched by a low caste person or a Harijan. One member of the Forum describes her own situation:

"I never used to talk to anybody in my school days and others used to say that I was a Harijan and low caste. I even used to tell my father and cry, saying: Some people differentiate and talk low of me. My father used to say: We have more love and affection, they only have money. After joining this Forum, we do not have caste differences that much."

10.4. Reasons for Joining the WWF?

Many of the women now members of the Forum, were approached by other members, groupleaders or area organisers to become a member in this womenís organisation.

"A few years back I was very timid and I always stayed at home, I did not speak much to other women or go outside my home. The area organiser of the WWF in my slum area knew about the struggles in my life and told me to join the WWF."

A woman, 34 years old

The reasons why the women have come to join the Working Womenís Forum differed. We have made their reasons for joining the Forum into four groups to show which reasons were the most common.

10.4.1. Credit
The main reason for many of the women to join the WWF was to get access to credit through the Forumís bank. If they borrowed money from the Forum they knew they could get loan at a low interest rate. Through this the women hoped to get bigger profits from their businesses. Women who did not have a business of their own hoped to start up a small enterprise with the loan from the corporate bank.

"I became a member of the Sangham (WWF) to get away from the money lender."

A woman, 43 years old

10.4.2. Changed life-situation
The women saw the WWF and the credit they could get access to as a way to get away from some of their sufferings and problems. They had hopes for a better life for the family and the children. They wanted to be able to provide for their familiesī needs, such as food, education for their children, clothes and other necessities.One woman put it like this:

"I joined the Sangham for the sake of my children, to be able to give them a better future. I donít want my children to suffer the way I have suffered in my life, especially not my daughter. Through the Sangham, I learn many things that are good for my children like nutritious food, the importance of taking them to school, the small family norm and many, many other things."

The women had a wish to change their way of living. This included things like getting more independence from their husbands or to come out from the house and see other places. Women who answered like this also wanted to earn their own money. One woman said as follows:

"I joined the Forum because I wanted independence from my husband and from anyone."

10.4.3. Security in a womenís group
The fact that the WWF is a womenís organisation was a reason for some women to join the organisation. They felt security because it was a womenís organisation where the members were poor working women from the slums just like themselves. Some women got curious because they saw other women in their community joining the Forum so they thought that it would not be dangerous to become a member. Some women had heard about the Forum before becoming members themselves and were very interested in knowing and learning more about women issueís. One member told us:

"I wanted to talk more to other women and people, I never did that before."

10.4.4. Other reasons
A few women said they got persuaded by someone else, usually a neighbour that already was a member and who talked about all the good things with the WWF. For some women it could take years before they got the courage to join the Forum. One woman told us she did not have any expectations at all and that is as good an answer as any!

"I expected to get some kind of benefit, but I didnít know what"

A woman, 55 years old

10.5. Objections from the Family about Membership in WWF

When we talked to the members of the WWF we were interested in the womenís families reaction when they joined the organisation. We asked if their families, their husbands or their mothers-in-law, had any objections about their involvement with the WWF?

In the group of one-time borrowers 5 of 15 women said they had objections from their family. In the group of five-time borrowers all except one had heard objections from the rest of the family. Among the women of ten-time borrowers everybody had had objections raised by either their husbands or their mothers-in-law. Some of the husbands were also worried about their wivesī responsibilities in the organisation, like when a woman who is a group leader has to carry money to the Forum, that she will get robbed. The objections raised by for example the husbands could be something like this:

"You should stay at home and take care of the children and the household; you don't have the time to get involved in an organisation."

"You will not be able to repay the loan, you donít even know how to read or write."

"What would others in the neighbourhood think of me if I let you go. They will gossip and say bad things about me and that Iím not in control anymore."

"The organisation will cheat you. You are not safe there."

After some time the objections from the husbands and the rest of the family were not so strong anymore. The reasons for the change in their opinions differed. When the family saw the advantages of being a member of the WWF they stopped complaining. One woman said that the respect she now got from others in the community also made her husband respect her more. Another husband had told his wife how proud he was of her and of what she had accomplished. Sadly, some husbands take advantage of the new wealth the woman created and work less than before and think that this is a very good situation and therefore do not complain. Gradually, the husbands of some of the interviewed women started to treat their wives better. When the woman earns money by herself she can threaten the husband to leave him if he does not treat her and her children well. Other husbands still complained but the women had become empowered and did not care about their objections. A ten-time borrower said:

"Today, I don't care about what my husband says, he canít treat me like a dog anymore."

A 42-year-old woman did not even tell her husband when she joined the Working Womenís Forum because she knew that he would not approve and let her go there. She really wanted to become a member, to get a loan from the organisationís bank and a better life for her and her children. For five years she kept her membership secret from her husband. All the time when he asked questions about the money she now had compared to before, she lied to him, saying that she got it from friends or relatives. The woman lied to her husband because she thought he would not let her attend the WWF meetings and make her stop work there.

10.6. Advantages of being a Member of the WWF

The membership of the WWF gives the women a lot of advantages compared to the life they lived before they became members. One woman told us the following:

"One advantage of being a member of the Sangham is that foreigners like you come from remote places to learn about our situation in the slums. Not even my own family is listening to me and the problems I have"

Altogether there are six groups of advantages that the women told us about and they are: Improved life- situation, Improvements for the children, Security from the WWF bank, Security from the group, Empowerment and Dealing with the problems of alcoholism and wife-abuse.

10.6.1. Improved life-situation
All the members of the Forum had a better life now when they were no longer in the hands of the money lender.

"The profit comes to me, not to the money lender, and I can repay both my loan and the interest. There is no burden of debt today compared to the situation I had when I was in the hands of the money lender. I get respect from other women and from my community because I earn my own money. The fact that I am creditworthy has given me self-respect. WWF believe in me and my business and that encourages me, they trust me. I have a better quality of life now."

A woman, 59 years old

When we asked the women about improvements in their life-situation after joining the WWF we saw a difference between the groups which had been members for a long time and those who had been members only a short time. The first-time borrowers answered that they had not seen any improvements yet in their life-situation, but at least they can manage their loan better now than when they borrowed from money lenders.

"Paying back our loan is possible now when we are borrowing from WWF. If we had still been borrowing money from money lenders we would be worse off than we are today."

Said during a group interview

All the women in the group of five-time borrowers could say that they had increased the profit from their businesses. The increase of profit is due to the fact that the women have been able to put more money into their businesses. From this profit the women can reinvest in their businesses and some women had been able to diversify their businesses. These members eat better food today than five years ago. Women who had only taken one loan ate only one proper meal per day. Compared to the women that had taken loans for many years, who could afford to eat more than one cooked meal per day. The group of ten-time borrowers ate two proper meals per day. They eat for example egg, fish, vegetables and potatoes. They also saw other improvements than concerning their business. One woman told us that today she owned her house, which is a big step for a woman in the slums.

Those who had been members for ten years also enjoyed more improvements in their life than the short-time borrowers. Basically they had the same improvements as the group of five-time borrowers, like better profit and much better conditions of life. These women often owned their houses and some had electricity in their homes. Other proofs of a better life-situation for these women were those who now could afford to buy some consumer goods like mixer or grainer for the kitchen. We could see with our own eyes that these women had come up in life. They had often two nose-rings and grand sarees.

10.6.2. Improvements for the children
"I want a better life for my children than I have had. I let my daughter go to school and I say to her that she is just as important as a boy. My daughter should learn a skill, and not be dependent on her husband to support her, she should earn her own money. Today I know that my daughter can take care of me in my old age, it doesnít have to be my son."

A woman, 47 years old

Education for the womenís children has become more important now that they are members of the Forum. They have realised that it is very important with education to get an improved life-situation. The WWF provides many things for the membersī children. Children of women borrowing money from the organisation get vaccination and education. The Forum arranges for some children and young people to learn a skill. The members has been taught to overcome superstitious beliefs they had before about diseases, treatment of diseases and so on, which have improved the situation for their children. Today the members know more about how to treat their childrenís diseases and what kind food is nutritious and healthy. The women want to have small families because then they can give their children a better upbringing.

"I took my children out of school. Today I regret that after knowing how important it is for their future. Education is very important for our children. Both the girl and the boy have to go to school. But in those days I really didnít have any choice. If my family was to survive. I had to let my children work and contribute with an income to the household."

A woman, 45 years old

10.6.3. Security - from the WWF-bank
It is possible for the women to have their own savings account or to have a life insurance through the WWF. The organisation also has special funds in case of crises like flood or fire. As a member she can also get other loans for special reasons like repairing her house. The WWF-bank have flexibility in their opening hours and the women have the opportunity to repay a loan later and that is considered a very good thing.

If there is an emergency which makes it difficult for the women to pay back the loan on time, they can postpone one or two repayments. Women who save money in the bank regularly can get access to their savings whenever they want. They can save as much money as they like and can afford. Some women save as little as 5 rupees per month.

"The savings I have in the Forum help me to repay the loan and to manage during the rainy season and it gives security for my family. If something happens to me my children will have the savings."

A woman, 36 years old

In the bank the member can save up money in a fund. It is a sort of life insurance, if the woman should die her children will get access to her money.

10.6.4. Security - from the group
It is the group that together goes to the authorities to complain about for example the drinking water, roads or electricity. Sometimes groups may go together and do protest marches concerning important issues. In one area members from the WWF gathered a lot of women for a march to stop the violence in the community. Other advantages of the group are that the women have somebody to talk to about their problems and they have somebody to support them when they have a problem at home or in their community. A woman we interviewed in central Madras said this about her group:

"In the group I share my problems with the other members and we can compare problems with each other. My burden lessens when we discuss our problems. To compare my problems with others makes me feel better. Now, because I know other women are in the same situation like me, facing the same problems, I care more about others in my neighbourhood. Earlier we only took care of ourselves. Now we make things happen together. If I have a problem with my husband and he beats me or treats me bad my group come and confront him and ask him why he hit me. After their visit to my house he behaves better towards me."

10.6.5. Empowerment
"When I was fourteen years old I married this man, he was 40. From the beginning he harassed me and said bad things about me and all the things I did in our home. Until the fourth child he beat me a lot. My mother, who lives with us, told me to leave him. But I didnít want to go away. I wanted to stand out the situation. After I learnt so many things from the Sangham I got the boldness to talk back to him and eventually he changed his behaviour."

A woman, 47 years old

An important advantage of being a member of the WWF is that these women get more aware about their situation. The mobilisation of women around social and political issues as well as credit has resulted in changes in their attitudesī on matters ranging from caste to family planning. Today, the majority of members oppose dowry and favour inter-caste marriages and they are strongly convinced that women should play active economic roles. There is also a growing realisation that it is possible to have some control over their lives, including their fertility. Through their group and from other members of the Sangham they get knowledge about themselves and their situation. The WWF teaches these women about womenís issues. When new members come to the Forum they have to attend "tuition" classes (information meetings). During these classes a senior member talks about womenís role in society and other issues. With simple drawn pictures a senior member shows different situations from a poor womanís every day life. From these drawings the members learn and discuss different issues such as womenís socio-political and socio-economic roles in society. The women are taught to overcome superstitious beliefs and they learn who really is in charge of the house-hold. From this kind of information a woman realises her oppressed role and she learns how to deal with her problems. All this and the work the woman does gives her a new sense of self-respect and makes her feel important.

"Iím not subordinate to my husband, I earn money as well and provide for my familysī needs, so Iím just as good as he is. Today I have more self-respect and I feel more important because I know that Iím equal to my husband."

A woman, 35 years old

The responsibilities of taking a loan and being able to repay it in time give her self-respect. Having the responsibilities of other women as a group leader makes her feel important. One woman told us:

"Through the WWF I realised that I am economically useful for my family."

10.6.6. Dealing with problems of alcoholism and wife-abuse
To solve the problems of alcoholism and wife-abuse the members of the WWF turns to their groups. In the group meetings the women discuss the problems of the drinking husband and wife-abuse. The members of a group sometimes confront the drinking husband when he is sober and talk to him and put pressure on him to cut down on his drinking. Some men do not like to be confronted by other women, he gets embarrassed when he know that all these women and the rest of the community knows about his drinking habits or that he is beating his wife. He may eventually change his behaviour.

Picture 3: Group-discussion with first-time borrowers.

It is not only through the group a woman deals with the problem with her husband. Today, credit has given the woman an income of her own which can provide for her and her childrenís needs she can threaten to leave him if he doesn't change. The strength from her group and her new-born self-respect, gives her the courage to talk back to her husband and reform him.

"The Working Womenís Forum have given me courage to talk back to my husband when he yells at me or treats me bad. After I learned to talk back he has cut down on his drinking and his behaviour has improved."

A woman, 38 years old

Through WWF the women get knowledge about how to treat their alcoholic husbands and where to go to get help. For example she can try to get the husband taken into places where they treat alcoholism. From a doctor she can get a permit which forces the husband to be signed into this place if he refuses. The longer the women have been members of the WWF the more their husbands have reformed themselves and cut down on the drinking and wife-abuse. The women said that the "reformation" of the husbands is a procedure that is still going on and will take a long time but even though the husbands still drink the situation is now more manageable for the women than before. One woman said to us:

"If my husband has a drinking problem I know where to go to get him treated for his drinking habit and how to try and reform him. I have learnt that from the WWF and their training programme."