Success Story: A sign of progress: Improving literacy for women in Uttar Pradesh

Mars Wrigley Confectionery is committed to empowering smallholder farmers in its mint supply chain. To help in that effort, Tanager implements the Mars Wrigley-funded Shubh Mint project in Uttar Pradesh, India. The project works to empower farmers economically and socially, helping them adopt sustainable farming practices while promoting gender equality.

Women in these communities often face significant barriers to equality. Shubh Mint works to improve women’s social and economic status within their communities through participation in Self Help Groups (SHGs). The SGH format is simple and impactful: women come together in small community groups to learn about better farming techniques, women’s rights, nutrition, and sanitation. In many of the SHGs, Tanager also helps women achieve something many of us take for granted – the ability to sign one’s own name. This basic skill is an important first step to financial literacy and empowerment.

The Ganga Women Self Help Group in Ujarwara village, Fatehpur block, Uttar Pradesh is just one of 319 SHGs formed under the Shubh Mint project. The group is comprised of twelve women, eleven of whom initially could neither read nor write their own names. This deficiency in their education had dire consequences: women were dependent on others for every aspect of their financial life, a heavy burden was placed on the one woman who was literate, and there was a general lack of confidence amongst the members of the group stemming from this gap in their education.

The Self Help Group coordinators first asked the women whether they would be interested in learning to read and write. The members of the SHG told us that this was the first time anyone had asked them, and at first, they weren’t sure whether they would be able to learn so late in life. According to one member, the group doubted whether, “At this age will we be able to meet up to the rigors of learning something new.”

The class began with each woman being given a slip of paper with her name written on it. The women were asked to practice writing their names multiple times throughout the week at home. Some women members learned quickly and would come back with their names written neatly several times, while others found the task more difficult. The women who came back with empty sheets were asked to write their names under the tutelage of the Tanager SHG supervisor and the other women in the SHG. The group dynamic helped encourage the women who were struggling, as they received support from their friends in the group who were having an easier time with the assignment.

Today, all 12 of the women in this SHG can read and write their name. It is said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and the women of Ganga SHG have taken that first step towards becoming literate.