Self-help groups start ‘a new culture of sisterhood’

Community EmpowermentGender

Tearfund’s approach to self-help groups (SHGs) – where women come together and save small amounts of money over time – places a consistent emphasis on the role of relationships. Relationships build trust between members and foster strong networks of SHGs. These groups may then form cluster-level associations (CLAs) to oversee the SHGs and extend their reach.

Women offering regular savings and issuing a loan to a member at a weekly self-help group meeting in Nazret, Ethiopia. Photo: Cally Spittle/Tearfund

Strengthened relationships mean that women are happy to start saving together. Findings from our research in Somaliland and Ethiopia show that the act of meeting and discussing issues builds trust, which enables groups to save money successfully. 

‘When you are facing problems as an individual, it’s different from when you face them as a group; it brings positivity.’ Woman from Burao, Somaliland 

SHGs are having the greatest impact with those displaced from their original communities and social networks, empowering previously isolated and voiceless women through friendship and the security of money that they have saved collectively. 

Tearfund partner Gargaar is working in Somaliland where conflict, political uncertainty and lack of international recognition have hampered the country’s development. Gargaar has been running an SHG programme in Hargeisa and Burao, the country’s two most populous cities, where a significant proportion of the population continue to live in dire conditions. 

Since 2008, Gargaar has promoted 128 SHGs in Somaliland, involving more than 2,000 women. 

Increased unity, friendship, interaction with neighbours and security are regarded as the most important impacts reported by SHG members in Somaliland. SHGs have provided a space for women to share their joys and difficulties, understand and respect others’ views and help each other during difficult situations. This has helped to build a new culture of sisterhood. 

‘Their collectiveness is their power which is more valuable than money, they said.’ Evaluation team on SHGs in Somaliland 

Women in SHGs have also demonstrated that the group is a safe and encouraging space to try new livelihood strategies. 

Of the SHG members interviewed in Somaliland, those who have taken out loans for income-generating activities (IGAs) have increased their monthly income by up to three times. Those who took second or third loans have taken bold steps to invest the capital in new businesses which they can manage simultaneously. Some others have expanded their existing businesses. 

Approaches such as these help those who were marginalised and alone to come together and adapt to an uncertain future, allowing them to deal with shocks and stresses and continue their journey out of poverty. 

Key lessons

  • SHGs foster relationships that help women build support networks and savings.
  • SHGs on their own enable women to absorb small shocks or stresses, but are insufficient for larger impacts. 
  • Cluster-level associations (CLAs) can bring groups of SHGs together to support each other. We are working towards testing whether CLAs do develop the ability of SHGs to resist bigger shocks and, if so, we will work to strengthen SHGs through CLAs in Somaliland and elsewhere. 

This article is from the Tearfund Impact and Learning Report 2016.

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Chloé Quanrud
Chloé Quanrud builds the capacity of Tearfund staff and partners in the design, monitoring and evaluation of projects and programmes.