The role of women's groups

How women can come together to improve communities

When women organise as a group, incredible things can happen. Collective organising can boost women’s knowledge of – and confidence in – advocating for their rights, autonomous decision making, communicating and speaking out, and much more.

In this module, you’ll read the stories of three women whose lives have been transformed by taking part in women’s groups.

Learning aims

Completing this module will give you an understanding of:

  • The importance of the role that women’s groups play
  • How women’s groups can transform women’s finances and wellbeing, as well as the way they spend their time
  • How women’s groups can support women to become community leaders.
Women farmers in Rwanda with crops they have grown using Sustainable Agriculture techniques

A women’s group in Rwanda with some of the crops they have grown using sustainable agriculture techniques. Photo: Jane Lennon/ActionAid

How women’s groups change lives

POWER supported women in communities in Ghana, Rwanda and Bangladesh to start or continue working together as part of women’s groups.

The results of women joining together to stand up for their rights are both cross-cutting and far-reaching. Examples include the formation of income-generating farming collectives, daycare centres for children, a reduction in child-marriage and access to governmental welfare support. The results extend much further than the individual or their families, inspiring change in the wider community, and challenging traditional mindsets around the role of women, particularly when it comes to unpaid care work.  

Women in Rwanda pose with crops they have grown themselves

A women’s group in Rwanda with some of the crops they have grown using sustainable agriculture techniques. Photo: Jane Lennon/ActionAid

Petronille’s story

Petronille, 40, is a widow. She has five children and is a member of her local women’s group in Rwanda. Like other women in her area, she was farming individually before she joined the group. Since joining the group, she and her fellow members received training in ActionAid’s Sustainable Agriculture approach. This is better for the environment and can boost productivity.

Petronille and the Abishyize Hamwe women’s group received trainings from the POWER project. They have developed new knowledge and confidence and are now empowered to enter – and win – national competitions.

“Before I was in the women’s group, I was poor. After I joined, I attended trainings on agriculture that doesn’t pollute the environment. I learned many farming techniques. I only have a small area of land but I increased my output. I now plant a small garden for vegetables and learnt how to plant with new techniques. I have put into practice what I learned”

Petronille and members of her group also receive training on laws around women’s rights, especially about violence against women, and what they can do to advocate for their own rights.

Having access to and control over money can reduce conflict within the home, and even reduce women’s vulnerability to physical, emotional and sexual violence.

One of the other members of Petronille’s women’s group shared, “Now I can do it on my own, I don’t have to ask him. I can get a loan from the group. If my child has to have a haircut I don’t need to ask my husband. Before there was quarrelling at home.”

The group also discusses issues around the burden of unpaid care work and the fact that women do most of the work at home, which is not recognised by men. Following completion of time diaries and discussion groups, the men in the community now understand this better and value unpaid care work more.

When Petronille completed a time diary she was surprised at the amount of time she spent on unpaid care work. As well as ensuring men understand this work and take on some of it, the POWER project has installed some water tanks. This has saved Petronille the two hours a day she previously spent on collecting water. She now has more time for farming work.

After growing in ability and confidence the women wanted to move into a new area of farming: growing flowers. There was a government competition to encourage innovation in farming – and the group was successful out of 176 applicants.

With the prize money they bought a machine to irrigate land in the dry season, and now use their trainings in sustainable agriculture to grow the flowers.

Petronille also took us away from the flower field to proudly show us her home. Before she was involved in the POWER project it was made out of mud. Now she has renovated it, with money from better farming and money from group savings. Petronille showed us the solar light she bought with income from loans shared out amongst women’s group members. Now she can do domestic work in the evenings, leaving her more time in the day for farming and group meetings.

Lucky’s story

Married off at 17, Lucky Begum didn’t get the easiest start in life. So it’s all the more remarkable that Lucky is now the accomplished and popular `Netri’ (leader) in her village, coming forward first when anyone in her region has a problem. Lucky leads the Fulchori Women’s Federation. As chairperson, she maintains networking and linkages with different government and non-government service providers at upazila [a region smaller than a district in Bangladesh] and district level.

Lucky also lobbies government service providers and ensures different services are available for the members of women groups and others. She’s the chairperson of a women’s group called Ujjol Upahar Women’s Group, which has 25 members.

ActionAid continued supporting the women of the group to organise and mobilise through partner organisations. Now, the members of the Ujjal Upahar have become the participants of POWER project, along with Lucky. As a mother of three children, Lucky often struggled before joining the group. Her husband, Md. Anarul Islam is a day labourer. With only Anarul’s income it was difficult for them to cover all the family expenses. Sometimes, it wasn’t possible to manage three meals a day for the family. It was in this situation that she joined Ujjol Upahar women’s group: to try to make changes in her life.

Lucky received training from ActionAid interventions. Through these awareness-raising initiatives, she learned about so many issues such as unpaid care work, women’s rights, violence against women, and more. She was able to build her knowledge, develop her capacity and increase her confidence. Awareness meetings were also organised with traditional and religious leaders, men, and boys about the redistribution of care roles to sensitise the community.

Spouse meetings were arranged to change husbands’ mindsets on unpaid care work. After these activities, change began to slowly manifest itself.

Women members started getting support from the community, as well as their husbands. Lucky’s husband was convinced and now plays a supportive role in her work and appreciates her engagement with the group.

Now, Lucky’s daily life is not like most other women’s. Her ‘to do list’ consists of tasks including outside and household chores. In the morning, she and her husband, Anarul, prepare breakfast together. After that Anarul goes for his shower. He also takes the younger child with him and helps him with his shower. Besides cooking, this couple shares the care work for children between them. After preparing it, the family eats their breakfast together.

The support from her husband in doing unpaid care work is very important. Otherwise, Lucky wouldn’t be able to go to the weekly meetings with Ujjol Upahar group. Since then, the group members started making savings with their limited contribution. When they had enough capital, they invested in a business.

When Lucky and her husband are busy with work, their children spend time in the Dhanar Para Child Day Care Centre. There, the children enjoy themselves and learn from morning to evening. They only go home for lunch. Thanks to the centre Lucky has time to engage with income generating work like tailoring and cow fattening. By doing so, she can earn money, improve her life and her whole family’s wellbeing.

“Now I help my daughter-in-law with household chores so she can get engaged with income generating activities and contribute in family and making decisions,” says Lucky’s mother in-law, Amena Begum. 

In addition, due to Lucky’s leadership and contribution, Fulchori Women’s Federation became a member of two farmers’ networks – Kendrio Krishok Moitree (KKM) and Prantojon, which work across the country. Lucky maintains regular communication with the forums and networks. She’s been able to establish herself as an independent and responsible leader. In 2017 she was elected as an executive member of KKM, consisting of more than 15,000 farmers across Bangladesh.

Through her work in this group, Lucky’s leadership capabilities and ability to solve problems became visible to everyone. She is one of the first to protest when there was a case of early marriage or sexual harassment. People started calling her to local arbitration meetings and she was elected as the Federation President. She got involved in various local decision-making structures, including the School Management Committee and Social Development Committee. She is also the cashier of Kanchipra Union Women’s Federation. She work continuously to reduce the burden of unpaid care work and improve the economic empowerment of women in her community.

Lucky has secured significant support for the people in her community. In 2016, she ensured the following services for her group members: five old-age allowances, four widow allowances, two disabled persons’ allowances, 12 VGF cards, 32 people of her village including group members were enlisted for the 100-days working scheme, three people were enlisted with the agricultural subsidy. Likewise, in 2017 her group members also received agricultural subsidies.

“I don’t want any other woman to pass such a miserable life as I did before. That’s why I’m working for other women.

“I will not let anyone torture any women in my area. I have stopped so many early marriages. A daughter of a group member was being dragged into such a situation. I stopped them with the support of all the women members of our group.

“Still, there’s long way to go to bring such change in the whole community and we are working for that. I will continue my journey for the betterment of the women of my community and beyond.”

Dig deeper

In ActionAid Bangladesh’s video, we see the many knock-on effects of women becoming empowered members of women’s groups. 


Add your responses below and submit them to test your knowledge and understanding.

The role of women's groups
In the video about women in Lalmonirhat, Bangladesh, coming together to demand the funding and services they need, what two issues are they campaigning about?
What POWER initiative did they decide to continue to allow women to get more involved with income generating activities?
Read Adisa, Petronille and Lucky’s stories and note down the different ways in which women’s groups helped to reduce the amount of time these women spend on unpaid care work. Note the conditions that were needed for change to take place.

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