In the male-dominated rural landscapes of Haryana, women have little economic freedom. They balance household chores, animal husbandry and agriculture, while following a strict purdah system. Shobha Lal of Gurgaon has formed 250 self-help groups (SGHs) in these villages of Mewat to fight such patriarchal mindsets, empowering over 2,500 women. When the savings from the income these women generated crossed Rs 40 lakh, banks got interested in financing them, giving a Rs 1 crore loan to upgrade their activities and add new revenue streams, like growing seasonal crops and medicinal plants.
Lal started her journey in 1990 with the additional district commissioner’s office in Gurgaon, where she was the women’s representative for rural development. By the time she retired in 2011, Lal had gained an unique perspective into rural development and women’s empowerment, from both inside a government office and outside. For a while, she worked on the same issues with various NGOs. “The government does a lot of work, but it lacks vision,” she says.