Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Empowerment and Equality in Rural India: Are Women's Community-Based Enterprises the Way Forward?

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Empowerment and Equality in Rural India: Are Women's Community-Based Enterprises the Way Forward?

Article excerpt


Despite the renewed commitment of the international community to provide economic opportunities for poor women, most observers suggest that the majority of the past and current experience of communty enterprise programmes for women has failed to make any significant impact on women's incomes and social empowerment. Based on ethnographic research methods, this paper presents a feminist analysis of a singular women's community enterprise promoted by local NGOs in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, usually known as GMCL (Gram Mooligai Company Limited). GMCL has been promoted by local NGOs in the state of Tamil Nadu and is an example of community women enterprise. Its main purpose is to assess the impact of GMCL on enhancing economical and social empowerment of women in order to better understand the potential of this particular type o initiative in promoting capacity building and local development. The findings show the need to see community enterprise programmes in a much more holistic light than is conventionally understood. Major outcomes o this research include giving voice and visibility to poor women, identifying their preferences and decisionmaking needs to poverty reduction and finally, developing culturally-sensitive policy recommendations that consider the multiple dimensions of empowerment.

Keywords: gender, community enterprise, empowerment, India


In the past few years there has been an increasing surge of interest in ways of increasing women's access to income through community enterprise programmes for women such as producer groups and cooperatives. Despite this, the evidence indicates that the majority of programmes fail to make any significant impact on women's revenue, empowerment and capacity building (Guerin, 2004).

For instance, some of these programmes incorporate social development components with a view to promote change at the grassroots level but have on the whole benefited better-off women. Rather than having a beneficial impact on gender inequalities, they actually tend to increase workloads without increasing access to incomes within the household. Moreover, they also cannot be assumed to be of greater benefit than other types of employment programmes to women labourers (Fernando, 2006).

Despite their diversity, gender inequalities compound those of class to make small-scale entrepreneurship even more difficult for poor women than for poor men. The growing literature on women entrepreneurs has found that within the same industries and markets women are generally considerably disadvantaged relative to men and generally have lower incomes. This is particularly the case with female-headed households (Della Giusta and Phillips, 2006).

The intersections of class and gender inequality also raise questions about the degree to which the concept of "entrepreneurship" has been adapted to women's needs, priorities and beliefs. This can lead to the question whether and how current womenenterprise programmes can or should be changed in order to increase their likelihood of success and to be able to fulfil multiple aims, pertaining economic and social development.

This paper presents evidence from a case study undertaken in 2007 in Southern India, examining a women community enterprise in the herbal sector. GMCL (Gram Mooligai Limited Company) was promoted by local NGOs and based in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu (India). The members of this enterprise are women who belong to scheduled tribes, e.g. what are considered to be the 'untouchables'. GMCL represents an interesting case study for its innovative organizational structure which is different from a cooperative or enterprise: while a cooperative is formed by individual producers that joint together to form a new economic entity, in the case of GMCL different groups/associations of farmers and not individuals joint together. This element confers to GMCL a strong grass-root community dimension. …

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