Learning to save money a stepping stone to women's empowerment

December 31, 2013

Malamati Rana’s journey to become a member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly began nearly 15 years ago when the housewife with a 10th grade education joined a little-known women’s savings group in her home district of Kailali.

Known as Gatishil Women’s Savings and Credit, the group was part of an innovative pilot project called the Women’s Empowerment Program designed and implemented by Pact to help women like Rana create better lives for themselves and their families. The program provided a platform for the women to save collectively, take literacy and numeracy classes, and advance their microbusinesses.

For Rana, the group not only helped her save money. It also gave her the confidence to build a career around social activism. From 2008 until November, when she lost her bid for re-election, Rana was one of 197 women serving in Nepal’s 601-member national assembly.

“We were able to ban selling liquor, gambling, and other bad practices because they led to domestic violence,” Rana said of her work with the women’s savings group. “We became popular at the local level and that helped boost my confidence.”

Rana became a literacy facilitator in the group, teaching other women basic literacy and numeracy skills and later began advocating for women’s issues in her community. Eventually, she became president of the Savings Groups District Coordination Committee, the umbrella for all the savings groups in Kailali.

Until last November, Rana sat on two assembly committees—the Protection of the Rights of Minorities and Marginalized Communities, and Women, Children and Social Welfare—where she advocated for inclusion of women, children and minority rights in Nepal’s new Constitution.

Pact started the empowerment program, now known as WORTH, trhoughout Nepal in 1999.

WORTH has been replicated in 11 other countries throughout Africa and Asia and has reached nearly 300,000 women (including 130,000 in Nepal). In August, Pact’s WORTH program expanded to its thirteenth country, Vietnam.

The WORTH program has had a significant impact on its members, according to a 2001 evaluation of the program in Nepal. Members reported increased self-confidence, a greater role in decision-making, increased literacy and education, easier access to credit—and even improved sanitation and a decrease in gambling, child marriages and polygamy.

The groups have also enabled women to rise to leadership positions in their communities and to rely on the savings groups as networks for support. As president of her group’s coordination committee, Rana supported the creation of legal remedies for female victims of domestic violence and helped create a separate unit in the district police office dedicated to dealing with domestic-related cases.

Her work drew the attention of the Sadbhawana Party, a political party that works to secure the rights of the Madhesi people and other discriminated communities in Nepal. She joined the party and six years later, was elected to Nepal’s national assembly.