SeSTA is mobilizing women from some of the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society and help them form a collective. Most of them belong to ST, SC, OBC and minority communities. Through this it understands aspiration, skill, knowledge and market opportunities available to them and their families and accordingly involves them in devising sustainable livelihood systems for their better future. In turn, this also unites these women to become financially independent and enhance their sense of self.
In the initial period, SeSTA was primarily engaged in sectoral activities – primarily interventions in productivity enhancement of Paddy through adoption of SRI technique. The approach was to mobilize male members of the villages and creating awareness towards SRI. Some farmer’s clubs were also formed and sporadic interventions in productivity enhancement of maize, creating irrigation infrastructures like dongs (canals), shallow tube wells were also initiated. Some efforts were also made towards understanding youth aspirations and subsequently designing some activities like sewing, cutting and computer education. These were not met with expected successes. Hence, after an organizational consultation, it was decided that “agency enhancement” of women must be the approach to achieve holistic community development and promote peace and harmony in the highly fractured society.
“Agency enhancement of women through women-led processes to increase capabilities, livelihood, and well-being of vulnerable rural communities and increase harmony, peace and synergy in the society”, became the goal and approach for the coming decade. In addition, the approach will also be family and resource based and livelihoods would flow from need arousal of families.
SeSTA’s definition of Agency
“I can change my life and the surroundings. But, I am not the only architect of my destiny. I am aware about the factors that shape my destiny which includes interaction of me with peers, family, society, stakeholders, community, self, in a dynamic way. Even though I go through struggle and stress, I know I am in-charge and it’s a part of my life-design and choices I have taken. While I actively seek guidance and critique, I don’t look upon others shoulders for approval. Further, I am willing to change myself as I continue to influence the world around me towards a desired state. I strive to individuate, expand the self and effectively attain goal.”
The rationale for focusing on women is based on “equity” and “efficiency” arguments. On efficiency grounds, practitioners have noted that women tend to be much better money managers, more conscientious with loan utilization and more disciplined regarding repayment. Women are also observed to form better groups as they are less prone to conflicts that could derail the group process of regular savings and on-time loan repayment. Also, several researchers note that when women control income in the household they tend to spend more on family welfare—health, nutrition, education, etc. and less on personal consumption. On equity grounds targeting women is an affirmative action favoring women as they are more disadvantaged among poor households. There are inherent inequalities in the society that have traditionally accorded a secondary status to women. In many spheres, women have been deprived of their just rights and entitlements. Societal pressures isolate women in the home or confine them to the private sphere of the reproductive activities in the home or hamlet and restrict their access in the public realms of workplace, market place and public decision-making forums. Women’s external exposure, access to information, resources, physical mobility and public voice become severely limited
SeSTA supports the ideology of collectivism and helps community to organize itself in groups which are self-managed. These self-managed groups provide a learning environment to its members to develop and grow. The groups facilitate expression of the members’ sense of agency. Groups also help build a critical mass (numbers / scale) to influence the environment around. It also provides an opportunity for the disadvantaged communities to link with each other, help each other and build on each other’s capabilities.
SHGs are systematically equipped with a set of skills requisite for their optimal performance as a savings and credits group, and their evolution to a multidimensional space. Women members of the group are engaged around discussions pertaining to livelihoods, natural resources and detailed credit and livelihood planning exercises are initiated with them. Slowly, this encourages women to improve their livelihood practices.
SeSTA next assists women to link with banks and financial institutions to access large amount of credit to enable introduction of sector classified livelihood activities through systematic livelihood planning and area as well as sub-sector studies. The field team also provides much needed assistance and handholding in terms of infrastructure, market and technological support to the producer groups to carry on with their newly established livelihood activities. The same steps are then repeated among other households from the area in a saturation organizing strategy. It supports the further collectivizing of the SHGs into village-level organisations called VOs and Federations, which have broader agendas of governance and well-being.
SeSTA works with the federations/VOs/ women collectives to understand the nature of unrest and disharmony amongst the communities, and works towards supporting community-led solutions towards mitigating the sense of mistrust amongst different ethnic and religious communities in the area.
The field professionals begin by selecting the poorest households through participatory wealth ranking exercises. They organize women from these households into Self Help Groups and build their capacities for saving and lending from their own group funds.