"Membership of Rojiroti has empowered me, made me independent, had a very positive impact on my life"
Focus Group Discussion with Rojiroti Members, 1st November 2017
Microfinance has been considered as an approach to promoting women’s empowerment, but numerous studies have shown that microfinance is no ‘magic bullet’ for women’s empowerment if it does not address the constraints on women’s ability to make the choices that they desire. Many have also criticised the concept of 'empowerment' as having been diffused and diluted by organisations. Women’s collective power and leadership are essential for true empowerment and for inclusive and sustainable development.
Rojiroti has a number of unique operating mechanisms that support women's empowerment, detailed below:
The fact that Rojiroti operates through women leaders, who have been members of groups themselves, from the communities that the organisation seeks to serve has played an important role in supporting empowerment.
"Rojiroti is not similar to other groups.. Rojiroti is an entirely female group and the women decide about the loan"
Interview with Sudha Devi, Rojiroti Staff Member, 22nd October 2017
For example, women leaders were considered to be role models in their challenging of unequal power relations within their communities and the way in which they shared strategies to tackle inequality with group members.
"Unlike before, now people wait to talk to me, whereas earlier no one knew me. My advice and guidance are taken seriously, and now people seek me out"
Interview with Rita Devi, Rojiroti Staff Member, 28th October 2017
"We, the working women of Rojiroti are role models for educating girls"
Interview with Pratima Devi, Rojiroti Staff Member, 22nd October 2017
Rojiroti's approach emphasises group solidarity and support, which extends beyond loan applications.
"Other groups are limited to finance and they have no concern about social or emotional values of their members. Their relationship is solely of borrower and lender. However, with Rojiroti, we are helped to grow as a person, as the group understands our emotions"
Interview with Rinku Devi, Rojiroti Staff Member, 6th November 2017
This approach has been found to lead to improvements in women's social resources, an important aspect of empowerment. For example, research has noted how groups provided social networks, new knowledge and information, opportunities for shared problem solving and improved education levels.
"We sit in group of ten members, ten views are given on any topic, this enhances our knowledge. Some of our members have learnt accounting. They keep their accounts updated on their own. This much we have paid back and this much is the balance we need to repay, so they learnt to add and subtract"
Focus Group Discussion with Rojiroti Members, 9th November 2017
Research also noted that Rojiroti members reported increases in their self-esteem and self-worth since being a member of Rojiroti, and experienced a reduction in domestic violence since joining the groups.
Whilst group meetings are an intrinsic part of the mainstream microfinance model, the Rojiroti group structure operates with a member-led approach to setting times and length of group meetings.
"In our group we fix the time while in other groups, the coordinator fixes the time... Here we can say to our group leader to come as per our convenience. Suppose we have to go to harvest paddy, we would call her earlier. At the time of sowing saplings, we call her early in the morning, but at the time of collecting grains from the harvested crop, we call her at noon"
Focus Group Discussion with Rojiroti Members, 31st October 2017.
Loan applications are validated by group members, who have control over the size, frequency and purpose of loans that are needed to support their livelihoods. This autonomy is an important feature of the Rojiroti approach.
Research has shown that involvement in group processes also led to women being more likely to know their household income and expenditure since being members of Rojiroti, arguably increasing their knowledge and role in the financial decisions made in their family.
Membership of Rojiroti is also associated with increased financial resources, an important aspect of empowerment, as women experienced increased poultry ownership, increased mobile phone ownership and an increase in upgrading to brick-walled housing.
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