Improving the Lives of Women in Bihar

In Bihar, India, hope is found where you least expect it. Behind a closed door where 10 to 25 women  have come together to discuss their most urgent needs. Unheard of a generation ago, this gathering is a mahila mandal – better known in this country as a women’s group.

Life for women and girls in Bihar is especially grim as they face a system called Purdah that is almost as oppressive and restrictive as the Taliban era in Afghanistan. Women are required to cover themselves in public and cannot travel without their husbands’ permission. The harsh realities are reflected in the almost 90 percent illiteracy rate among women and the fact that 88 percent of girls marry before the age of 17.  

Mahila mandals, with the aid of international organizations and donor support, are beginning to help though. One of the positive changes will be setting up savings and credit groups in which loans are approved and administered by and for local women.  Having access to a loan as small as $50 can completely transform a woman’s life in Bihar. Even a small amount of money can provide her the means to purchase raw materials that can be turned into finished products for sale, including seeds to grow crops, or an animal that produces milk, cheese or eggs that are marketable. 

This year, there will be 100 new mahila mandals or women’s savings and credit groups formed in Bihar. It is anticipated that the capital saved by the 5,100 group members will increase from $21,000 to $40,000 this year. More than 90 percent of that amount will be revolved as loans among the members. The value of this community-controlled asset is especially amazing when you realize the average annual income in this area is just over $400 a year.

Support from individuals in the United States can help transform the lives of women in this region and offer hope to them for a safer, more secure future.