Empowering Communities in India to Overcome Poverty — One Woman at a Time

Originally posted at the Huffington Post…

This International Women’s Day, I want to recognize the women of rural India who are fighting to pull their communities out of poverty — one woman at a time.

Women have the power to pull communities out of poverty.

During the past year, I have met countless women who are defying the odds to provide for their families and are slowly but surely changing their destiny and giving their children a brighter future.

There is no better example of the power of women as change agents than those living in India’s Bihar State.

Last year, I visited several self-help groups formed with the support of Lutheran World Relief (LWR) in Bihar. Bihar may not look that large on a map, but the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) reports that it is India’s third-most populous state and only 11 countries in the world have a larger population. Nearly 90 percent of people in Bihar live in rural areas, where UNDP reports, the poverty rate is nearly 56 percent.

More than three-fourths of the people in Bihar earn a living through agriculture, which has many challenges of its own. Women working in agriculture often lack the resources, land and inputs to be economically and food secure throughout the year. Many men are forced to migrate to find work so they can send money back to their families for survival. When family emergencies occur or households just cannot make ends meet, people often turn to money lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates, trapping many families in a cycle of poverty.

However, the situation in Bihar is changing. By forming self-help groups, women are not only getting access to much-needed capital, but they are also gaining confidence in themselves and instilling it in their communities.

Last year, I met Palvarti — a farmer who is learning farming techniques through one of LWR’s agricultural projects in India. Instead of just growing rice, she has learned to grow vegetables, diversifying her family’s diet and income and giving her higher value crops to sell at local markets. Continue reading Empowering Communities in India to Overcome Poverty»