- With an under 5 mortality rate of 98, India ranks 49th in the world for children's health. (UNICEF State of the World's Children 2001)

Semi-starved and anemic, suffering from backaches, headaches, and fatigue, India's women have little access to a formal health care system and little money to afford basic medical services. The innovative Working Women's Forum, a micro credit program initiated in 1978, has taken a stand against women being denied basic health care and created a safety net - micro-insurance.

Working Women's Forum (WWF) currently serves 230,000 poor women with loans to start their own businesses. Taking a bottom-up approach in its organizational efforts has been key to WWF's success as it continually innovates to provide services demanded by the poor.

WWF noted that many of its clients were semi-starved and anemic when entering the program, making them prone to various infections. In addition, homemakers in India are more apt to suffer from backaches, headaches, fatigue, stomach pain, and other non-serious ailments that are generally considered not serious enough to consult a doctor. While often it is the male member of the family who visits a health clinic, even for the smallest of ailments, the women are denied health care and suffer until they reach a critical level of ill health.

Because of this, Working Women's Forum focuses on women's and reproductive health care by selecting and training women cadres from poorer areas to go into their neighborhoods and teach other women basic health care skills. These trained women focus on health care issues for women from birth through the reproductive years and into old age. 960 trained "health cadres" operate in 720 urban slums and 340 villages and have reached approximately 1.6 million families. They also train other women in childcare skills, focusing on the welfare and development of female children, a group most often neglected by the formal health-care establishment.

WWF has also implemented a micro insurance scheme that offers social security to women workers. There are currently 118,000 policyholders in this program. In addition, in April of 2000, WWF launched a health-insurance package for self-employed women, a program that evolved from and is implemented by the women themselves. These women work in the informal sector and have no access to formal health benefits. WWF's package provides for hospital stays, doctors fees, medicines, and surgeries and costs between 70 and 210 rupees (approximately $1.50 to $4.50). Since its launch, 1557 women have enrolled.

By listening to the concerns of poor women, Working Women's Forum has created a safety net for the poor - allowing women to no longer live in fear.

Working Women's Forum (WWF)

Headquartered in Chennai (Madras), on the southeast coast of India, Working Women's Forum currently has over 265,000 borrowers.

One hundred percent of their clients are women; one hundred percent are in the bottom half of those living below the poverty line in India.

While providing a variety of business and financial services, WWF also maintains a 134% level of financial self-sufficiency - proving it to be a sustainable method of poverty alleviation.

Working Women's Forum has also implemented the Grassroots Health Advocacy Program, whereby local women - from rural villages or urban slums - are trained in health and nutrition education and family planning methods. These women then go back to their villages or slums and go to their neighbors, their families, and their friends to teach them that knowledge. This method of passed-down health information has reached 1.6 million families since its inception in 1980.

Health insurance has also become a key component to WWF's programs. Currently, 1,18,000 policy holders tap into a traditional form of health insurance that is usually unavailable to the types of clients WWF reaches - women whose self-employment ventures exclude them from formal types of insurance. In April of 2000, WWF also launched a micro-insurance program, where a fee from US$ 1.50 to US$ 4.50 provides access to hospital stays, doctors' fees, medicine, and surgeries. Join us to see how these innovations are changing the lives of women in India!

Also read:
Her tryst with change
SHGs serve as great example to women of other countries
Women's empowerment, subject of bilateral discussions
Memories of Madras
India's Lady with the Lamp
Fight against poverty
Jaya's Army of Women
A Lifelong Champion Of India's Poorest Women
The Working Women's Forum, Madras, India
Providing microcredit to working women
Gender and equity: experience of the Working Women's Forum, India
Downloadable Articles
Micro-insurance creates safety net for the poor
Microcredit Summit Campaign
India: A Silent Revolution At The Grassroots The Success Of The Working Women's Forum – INDIA
Indian American Center for Political Awareness - Microfinance - Jaya Arunachalam, microfinance pioneer, on a visit to the U.S.