Contribution of assets, group management, benefits and community support to the success of Maphephethe rural women's groups.
Women play a major role in development especially with the increasing numbers of female headed households in Africa. Today more than ever, the poor, the majority of whom are women, face the challenge of creating new survival mechanisms within their communities. One of these mechanisms that the rural women of Maphephethe, (like their counter parts in other parts of Africa) have created is the formation of welfare groups which undertake various activities for income generation. This is to enable the women to meet their basic needs. However success of these groups depends on various factors such as access to assets. Women by virtue of their gender lack access to assets and they operate within structures of inequality which discriminate and deny them equal opportunities to participate in development. Maphephethe is located in the rural KwaZulu-Natal midlands, in the Ndwedwe district. The area like many parts of rural KwaZulu-Natal is characterised by poor social and physical infrastructure. The purpose of this study was to investigate the contribution of assets, group management, constraints, benefits and community support to the success of Maphephethe women's groups. The study therefore looked at how the groups functioned, the constraints faced, the benefits derived from group participation and the way the community perceived these groups. All these factors were looked at in relation to success. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies were used for this study. These were observation, focus groups, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques, de Wet Schutte P-Index, semi-structured interviews and in-depth interviews with key informants who were leaders of the groups. The study found that successful groups were of mixed gender, accessed more assets, undertook more activities and functioned better. These groups also had higher education levels than those which were less successful and were also perceived more favourably by the outsiders. Education and asset access were crucial factors to the success of women's groups. The members of successful groups were more committed, had a higher sense of belonging and realised more income from their groups. This study summed up crucial factors for success of women's groups as access to assets, diversified activities, high education levels, good management, committed members, community support, networking, and realisation of incomes by group members. The ability of the rural women's groups to participate effectively in their development activities is constrained by illiteracy (which results to poor management) and other factors such as lack of capital and information. In view of the constraints, it is recommended that development agencies create links with these groups to understand the effects of their collective action in the area. There is a dire need for capital to improve the women's activities, training of all the group members on issues ranging from group dynamics, basic education and skills. Literacy training could be combined with income generating activities. Development efforts need to begin by taking full stock of women's perceived claims, goals, motivations, constraints and resources they identify in their context
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