Creating bases of women's solidarity: A study of the grassroots credit groups of the Working Women's Forum in India

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Wadley


Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Since the last decade, there has been a growing concern about the integration of women into the development process. The failure of growth policies to accelerate development, initiated the debate on growth versus social justice in the early 1970s. About this time, it was realized that one of the ways to accelerate economic development was to involve women as equal partners in the national economies. This concern was further accentuated by the International Decade for Women (1975-1985). The consciousness generated by the decade led to a rethinking of policies and programs for women.

In India, in 1971 the Government set up a Select Committee to Study the Status of Women (CSWI). In 1975, the report of the CSWI was published. The CSWI indicated major areas of program intervention as employment, education, health, legislation, etc.

Currently, in India there are over twenty-seven governmental programs for women (both gender-specific and mixed). The total outlay on women's programs is 2.2% of the total seventh plan outlay as of 1986. Though a number of new programs such as the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (1981) have been initiated, the coverage rate has been poor (12%).

In a contrast, the present study will analyze the successful mobilization strategy of a large Non-Governmental Organization of women workers in South India. The Working Women's Forum (W.W.F.) has 52,000 members in the three states of South India (Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka). The basic unit of organization is the small credit group consisting of eight to ten members. The Forum has three credit cooperatives and a health scheme covering 300 slums in Madras city.

The goals of the Forum are to effect material and motivational changes in the lives of poor women. This study will analyze (a) the mobilization strategy of the W.W.F. especially the credit group and the strategies used to elicit participation of poor women within the credit group; (b) the existing collectivities and social forms that the credit group has built on; (c) the role of the group leaders as catalysts and motivators; and (d) the material and motivational impact of the credit group on the lives of poor women. Our study also hopes to describe the process of participation in the credit group so that replication is possible in other programs for women. A survey of literature on development programs reveals a major gap in this area.

Particularly, this dissertation will seek the answers to the astounding rate of expansion of the W.W.F.'s credit groups and will offer suggestions both to the W.W.F. and other organizations, development planners, administrators and scholars on the role of the credit group as an effective unit for mobilizing women.


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