A key feature of WIN’s work is that it tries to be self-supportive in its core responsibilities. Hence a small amount in the form of registration fees from the 600 + Self Help Groups (SHG), and other member contributions fund the formation and upkeep of these groups. The SHG members are further more never recipients of free gifts or cash donations, but are always expected to pay some contribution towards facilities and services provided by WIN. This is in keeping with the WIN Methodology of creating and building the capacity of Self-Help of our members, and to lessen all forms of disempowerment in this process.
Outside of its core responsibilities, WIN works mainly through partnerships with likeminded agencies from the public and private sector, and individuals from all over the world to support the improvement of the infrastructure available to our members in health, drinking water, sanitation, waste management and educational facilities. These interventions are crucial to our overall aim of empowering the fisher women and their children to create positive changes for themselves and their community.
Our main projects/ interventions can be grouped under our 7 themes of work as follows:
Small fisher households typically face two chronic problems – financial insecurity, and a lack of savings to tide through crisis periods. This results in further indebtedness of these families, and their inability to invest in productive activities that can generate some surplus for them.
To deal with these problems WIN has facilitated thrift and credit operations as a core, regular activity in all its SHGs. This has contributed to poverty alleviation by:
Stimulating regular savings habit in the members and asset creation in fishing households, which are notorious for their spendthrift behavior.
Timely access to low-interest group loans for basic consumption needs and emergency household expenses
The savings of the 14000 members have come to quite a substantial amount - over 12 million rupees - that works like a revolving fund, available as low interest loans to the women time and again.
A typical characteristic of marginal coastal fisher livelihoods is their extreme dependence on their natural environment, not only for income, but also for basic needs in food, drinking water, and toilets. This extreme dependence on natural resources is like a double-edged knife as it not only makes the households extremely vulnerable to external shocks in their physical environment, but also causes irreparable depletion of natural resources and pollution of the environment. This results in dragging these households further into the vortex of poverty, ill health, and vulnerability.
Determined by social relations and their gender role, women typically bear the burden of fulfilling the household’s consumption needs in fuel, food, and drinking water. Any shocks in their natural environment, hence, affect the women most directly and negatively. For this reason, and also because women play the most important role in monitoring health of their household members, WIN channels most of its health programs through them. This is done through:
Many of these initiatives also reduce the pollution of the direct natural environment, thus making a positive impact on sustainable development in the area.
A remarkable feature of the WIN organization is that it is a completely women-led and women-managed NGO in a field that is as yet very much male-dominated. This has definite consequences for gender mainstreaming within the organization, and in our interventions in the community. At organizational management level, WIN accords a very high role to capacity building of WIN staff. Knowledge of the local area and community networks, and field knowledge are important criteria in the selection of staff, who are mainly recruited from the local area (most of them have started off as WIN SHG members). WIN realizes that these women form the core through which all our interventions are developed and sustained, and the need to invest in building their skills for work, as well as their commitment and motivation to work. This is reflected in the women-friendly work policy, emphasis on good communication and dialogue at all levels, as well as the diverse trainings and workshops that staff are encouraged to participate in for skills- and personality development.
At community level WIN SHGs provide the fora where local men and women participate in discussions on gender and political needs and constraints, and identify suitable responses. The separate men and women SHGs provide a trusted environment in which gender discussions can start and be continued in a shared platform at a later stage. In WIN’s experience the SHGs have often been the “germination beds” for powerful social campaigns and community-led political debates. For example it was in the SHGs that women members were finally able to express their discontent for their men’s excessive drinking, and jointly organize a social campaign where they forced illegal country liquor shops to close down.
Men and women SHG members have often acted jointly as a powerful pressure group for several relevant social and political issues affecting the community, such as the banning of sales of addictive substances in local shops.
Recently, the success of our leadership training was clearly demonstrated when an unprecedented 50 women from WIN SHGs stood for local government elections.
Activities under this theme are geared towards capacity building, consciousness-raising, and personality development of our staff and members, and include:
Schools along the Kerala coast are very poorly managed and are wanting in infrastructural facilities. Classrooms are overfilled, teachers are overworked and under-motivated, with the result that more and more children are performing poorly at school and/or dropping out. Realizing the need to secure the future of the coastal households through the younger generations, WIN has started partnering with local schools to improve their infrastructure, and by offering specialized counseling and extra-curricular education for the children.
Despite high literacy levels in the state, the spectre of unemployment still looms large over Kerala, and especially so for the youth of the fishing communities due to the poor quality of education they receive. WIN is attempting to improve future job prospects for these youth by offering relevant career advice, placement services, and vocational training in areas with high recruitment potential.
For example, the upcoming development of Information Technology (IT) parks and a Fashion Designing and Garment Manufacturing Hub in the nearby urban areas, has prompted WIN to offer members’ children specialized and general courses in these sectors.
Our activities so far:
Natural resource- based livelihoods still form the backbone of a majority of WIN members’ livelihoods with disastrous consequences ensuing when there is a shock to the natural environment, like the Tsunami disaster of 2004. The recent local epidemic of Chikungunia (Viral fever spread by local mosquito strain) also amply demonstrated the disastrous consequences of disturbing the delicate balance of this vital community – natural environment mutual dependency.
WIN is trying to sensitize and educate the local community on the need to protect and nurture the environment, to secure theirs and their children’s livelihoods. Members are educated on how to reduce pollution and further depletion of their natural environment, especially through the three R’s: reduction (in consumption of plastic, energy, and fuel); recycling (of waste products); and regeneration (replanting denuded mangrove areas).
With an eye on the specific gender responsibilities of women in terms of drinking water, firewood collection, household shopping, and waste disposal, women become a target group in our sensitizing and education activities. Youth and children are also encouraged to participate in cleaning up campaigns and mangrove (re)planting drives, to make sure that the future generations take up a more responsible attitude towards preserving their environment.
Finally by creating opportunities for the move away from natural resource based livelihoods to more trading and service-oriented livelihoods, for its members, WIN is also indirectly helping to reduce the burden on the natural environment.
Interventions that help to protect and replenish the environment include:
The Tsunami disaster of 2004 that also hit the coast of Kerala brought home some important lessons for WIN and our member groups. We learnt to recognize how chronic poverty and vulnerability of communities determine the extent to which an external occurrence destros and destabilizes a community
Out of the 600 WIN SHG's in the coastal belt of Alleppey and Ernakulam, 259 SHG's have been affected by the disaster. Among these 163 groups were identified as most severely affected. Damages cannot simply be measured in visible, physical statistics of lives lost, damages in property and deterioration in means of livelihood. There is the immaterial(not -yet-visible) damage to be considered - mental trauma, esp. to the younger generations, and the severe blow to the already fragile ecological and community resources. The latter is in fact responsible for saddling an already marginalized community with servere impediments to sustainable future development.
The key to disaster management as WIN learned is to reduce this vulnerability of communities, and to build their capacity to be better prepared for future calamities. WIN has been strengthening the self-help capacity of fisherwomen through its SHGs since the start, and this was continued even during the Tsunami aftermath. Where ever possible, SHG members raised cash and other material for affected families, and offered emotional as well as physical support in cleaning up house debris, clogged drains, canals etc. The collective strength of the members was very apparent in this time.
WIN makes it a matter of principle not to give free gifts of cash or material to SHG members, as this undermines the self reliance capacity and empowerment of our women. WIN has learned that all women can contribute something towards payment, however small this may be, and if not in cash than in kind. As the tsunami disaster was an extenuating circumstance of relatively large proportion, WIN relaxed its loan policy to give out interest-free loans to deserving clients. SHG members decided amongst themselves which member would get the interest free loans. This process strengthened group solidarity and reduced potential of future conflict among members.