Herizons Magazine Summer 2011
Imagine a team of sari-clad helmeted young women buzzing on their scooters through the Indian countryside. Imagine they distribute loans to, and collect installments from, marginalized, mostly low-caste, non-literate women in rural areas in the most populous and diversified democracy in the world.
Imagine Dalit (formerly untouchable) women using these loans to start organic farming, embroidery or food vending cooperatives, or to set up their own sand quarries, or to train as masons to build the infrastructure that the country so badly needs. Imagine them doing this while paying off their husbands’ debts, or sending their children to school or college.
Imagine a Montreal journalist donning a salwar-kameez – baggy pants and long tunic – to feel less conspicuous as a Western woman, sharing meals, sleeping mats and stories with these women, and you will understand why microcredit in the hands of women benefits them as individuals and the country as a whole.
Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos, co-recipient of the 1979 Governor-General’s Award for non-fiction, visited Indian between 2001 and 2008. The result is this well-documented, eminently readable and uplifting book.
McLeod Arnopoulos’s conclusions confirm what Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for founding the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, knew: Women repay their loans at a faster rate than men; they invest in practical schemes; they are family and community oriented; and they have a long-term outlook centred on the health and education of their children. Not surprisingly, there is an inverse relation between the growth of women’s self-help groups and the prevalence of child labour.
The book’s conclusions are simple: Microcredit for women in India’s rural areas is as crucial as information technology industries are in Indian cities for lifting the country out of poverty.
Maya Khankhoje lived in India for 11 years and has visited the country more than 25 times.