The rationale of the programme takes account of:
• The SHG movement has taken off on a large scale and has become the approach of numerous government rural development projects and of rural banks. However many of these programmes are not providing the support needed to bring groups to a self-sustaining level and both empower women and lift them out of poverty.
• Although rural credit policies support SHGs and the strong credit performance of SHGs has generated a keen interest of rural banks in SHG linkages, most groups do not have access to bank finance on a sustainable basis.
• SHGs will need continued support from outside agencies. Cluster level federations or resource centres can fulfil this role, and be financed on a sustainable basis by SHGs.
• SHG members need additional support to efficiently utilise loans for improved livelihoods. This requires skill training, market linkages and other support services;
• As well as providing financial services and livelihood support, SHGs and cluster organisations also provide an effective base for other actions that empower women, such as functional literacy, awareness of legal rights, and knowledge of practices for better health and hygiene;
• All these actions to empower women can feed into local level governance and state level policy. Women’s Village Level Committees have been shown to be effective in promoting local initiatives for the welfare and empowerment of women, and in making demands from local government structures.
The overall goal of the programme is to enable poor women to make use of choices, spaces and opportunities in the economic, social and political spheres for their improved well-being. This would be achieved through four purpose (immediate) level objectives of: (a) creation of strong and sustainable SHGs, and SHG apex organizations who provide their members with economic and social support; (b) provide access to savings, credit and insurance services, and build up financial security; (c) opportunities for new and improved livelihood opportunities, with enterprises established or expanded, and market linkages and support services; and (d) access to functional education and social services, labour-saving infrastructure, and participation in local governance. In addition the programme would aim to support and promote government policies that empower women and develop the capacity of MVVN to improve the livelihoods of poor women.