Empowerment of the poor is a key strategic concern of Women’s Development Federation (WDF).
Women`s empowerment addresses many different aspects of change in women’s lives and each of those are important for them, including inter-relationships with other aspects. It links with the feelings of women`s sense of self-esteem and socio cultural distinctiveness; their motivation and skills. Generally the impact of empowerment is visible on the improved self confidence of poor women with enhanced capacity of them to exercise strategic control over their own lives. It is also a fact that empowerment enables women to confer their problems with others who matter to them; such as the avoidance of alcohol usage etc., while also revamping the socio-economic settings to build a more just-full society.
In concern with above, WDF from it`s inception has aroused consciousness of the segments of marginalized people through empowerment in quest of their economic and social advancement, in addition to the built in self confidence etc., While promoting the rights to secure their resources through effective commitment with also the flexibility to apply choice and control for their well-being, the empowerment of member community is attended with their desire and consent. However, the result based processes of empowerment require a comprehensive set of policies that aim fundamentally to strengthen the livelihoods and services, whereas, all activities need to be effectively coordinated so as to empower the poor along with the integral approach being practiced by WDF.
Empowerment of targeted beneficiaries addresses wide spectrum of issues including land disputes, infra structural problems etc., through meticulous interaction with relevant authorities including civil society organizations. At present Women’s Development Federation is diligently engaged in empowering women those who joined WDF from marginalized segments and the total members joined exceeds 70,000 individuals from two poverty stricken districts namely Hambantota and Monaragala, in Sri Lanka.
Courses of action of empowerment and the structural contrivance :
WDF commenced its activities in 1989 as an initiative to refurbish the Janasaviya (A poverty alleviation programme initiated by Government) in Hamabntota which is being one of the most poverty stricken districts in Sri Lanka. At the inception WDF started 124 women’s societies together with Janasaviya. In 2009 WDF entered the adjoining district Monaragala too, which was identified as the district with highest rate of poverty. The acuteness of poverty becomes the basic criteria of WDF to enter into a new location. Followed by the initial assessment and the market survey and also with the consent of respective District Secretaries, WDF commenced it’s services. Since, 5 member group is the most efficient unit to operate microfinance as revealed through Prof. Yunus’s Grameen Bank concept, whereas, WDF too, follows the Self Help Groups (SHGs) method. In view of the fact that mobilization needs courteous attention, WDF deployed trained staff to continue the process of mobilization and to complete the process of empowerment. Consequently, the well functioning SHGs of 5-7 individuals in each, are link in batches of 10 -12 to formulate village societies.
Currently there are 13,500 SHGs and 1243 village societies. While SHG members attend group meetings weekly, the village societies used to conduct their meetings twice a month. Promotion of savings, exchange of labour, buying consumer goods at whole sale prices are the elementary activities involved by SHG members.
It is obligatory for the office bearers of village societies to explicitly discuss the progress of each SHG. After a while, those well functioning village societies are inured to form into clusters and each cluster is named as Janashakthi Bank society. There are 158 Bank societies established and functioning. When the legitimate ownership of WDF is concerned the members are the lawful owners. One other visible feature is that the social capital built by the members. In addition, Janashakthi members are empowered socially through awareness raising on gender sensitization and anti-alcohol campaigns etc., Arousing awareness towards securing harmonious family, promoting education of children, enhancing enterprises and building solidarity becomes key aspects of the empowering members.