Impact a Woman- Transform an Entire Village

Typically, women in rural Myanmar households manage the finances of their families. With an annual household income of approximately $700, little to no funds are available for emergency health care or other family needs. Through our women’s empowerment programs, each village forms female groups with members taking leadership roles. An example would be Shanta’s Self-Help Groups (SHG), including a savings circle. In an SHG, women create their own rules and regulations, practice problem-solving, and learn lending processes. Shanta provides technical training, mentoring, and cash awards to each group participating in the program. Other activities under the women’s empowerment umbrella include Women’s Small Business Startup groups and Village Health Educators. Women’s Empowerment has been a tremendously beneficial program to the lives of women (and their whole families) as they create their own path out of poverty. Moreover, it is by far the most cost-efficient approach to improving the livelihoods of village families.

Women’s Self-Help Group

Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are an incredibly powerful force for village development. The program’s objective is to support women’s social and economic empowerment at the community and household level. It is built around a small-scale savings and loan program, but the ultimate purpose is to build skills, confidence, and solidarity among participating women. Monthly meetings become a learning and sharing platform among members. Strong ownership and responsibility regarding the management of their savings fund are found among members. SHGs are tight-knit groups of women who meet regularly without fail.
Their discussion topics included life changes, family issues, community activities, and ways to improve their group. They manage the group by themselves, assigning roles, making rules and regulations, resolving issues, and managing the lending process. Shanta provides technical training, mentoring, and a cash award to each successful SHG. SHG members contribute their own money on a monthly basis, with a minimum of approximately $2 per woman. The saved money can only be lent to members; this encourages them to contribute each month and hold each other accountable to repay on time so others in the group can borrow. SHG members borrow money for different reasons; examples include home repair, children’s education, medical care, business startup/expansion, and other personal reasons.

Women’s Small Business

This initiative aims to empower women by providing them with more opportunities to create and manage their own businesses and gain confidence in financial management. By doing so, women can increase their economic security and become role models in their communities.
Before this program is introduced, the village Self-Help group must develop strong cohesion, trusted leadership, sufficient savings, and a willingness to initiate a small business. This usually happens in the third year of our partnership with a village. Shanta introduces the concept, provides training and small business management education, and then helps create a business plan. The project offers qualifying SHGs a $1,000 “kickstart” contribution with a 1% interest rate and a 1-year loan duration. The group is required to repay 50% of the kickstart funds with interest, while the remaining 50% will serve as capital for the group to continue their business. The group is also expected to contribute their own funds to help start the business based on what they can afford.

Village Health Educators (VHE)

The Village Health Educator project aims to mobilize women as key players in promoting reproductive health and sharing knowledge on basic healthcare in the community. 90% of our VHEs go on to form health committees and establish a network with local government midwives to provide sustainable healthcare services in each of their communities. The health committees establish a strong relationship with the government’s midwives, allowing the entire village to access health services regularly. These committees play an active role in organizing villagers for midwife-delivered services as well as assisting midwives with school vaccine activities, data collection, and registration for birth certificates. As a result, over 80% of children and pregnant women receive full immunization and vaccines from the midwife. The health committees have a strong relationship with their village headmen and associated VDT.

Women Group Discussion by VHE

The women’s group discussion project creates a safe and open platform for all village women (14 to 60 years old) to speak about any useful topic or issue in a secure environment. The trained Village Health Educators (VHEs) lead the discussion groups to talk about reproductive health, child/family nutrition, personal hygiene, and healthy environment topics. Discussions are facilitated to help them understand concepts thoroughly, to reinforce their knowledge and perceptions, and to build their confidence in identifying and addressing individual, family, and community needs from a female perspective. This is a very popular group for women to share fears, anxiety, and curiosity and develop their ability to speak up about topics that may be culturally difficult to discuss.

As our Zambia partner villages are entering their second year of program implementation, they are just starting to introduce our women’s empowerment programs. However, we are thrilled to see many women in each village taking leadership roles on their Village Development Teams. This spring, project officers will roll out programs in three villages: the Girls’ Action Forum, Reproductive Health Services, and Safe Mothers Action Group. We are encouraged by each village’s enthusiasm thus far and anticipate strong participation in these programs.

This is just a brief overview of our established women’s empowerment programs. If you are curious for more information or want to chat about our work empowering communities through these (or any) initiatives, reach out to us. We love talking about all things Shanta!