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Banding together, Indian women change their villages

A group of women's collectives in rural India use their newfound wealth to change their communities.

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When Phulbasin Yadav and 11 other women set aside $3 a month to start a business, skeptical elders turned the town against them.

When Ms. Yadav learned to ride a bicycle, traveling between villages to set up health clinics and offer hot meals for children, her husband threw her out of the house, saying she was ignoring her duties at home.

And when she and her colleagues won the contract to run the local market, the businessman who lost the bid promised to kill them.

Business in Sukuldhain had always been a man's world. But today, Yadav is president of a districtwide network of women's groups with businesses ranging from mines to concrete works – totaling half a million dollars in assets. And, sometimes, when she comes home from hard day at work, her husband has tea and a hot meal ready for her.

Now in a position of power, these groups have begun to change the district one village at a time. They have stopped 570 child marriages, by Yadav's count. They have offered dowries to poor families whose daughters would otherwise be shunned. They have paid for school uniforms and taken over fair-price stores that were cheating poor villagers.

In short, they have done exactly what they were intended to do, says Dinesh Shrivastava, who championed the groups when he was district collector here several years ago. "Women are the best agents for social change," he says. "They have made a revolution."

In a country where government corruption and inefficiency often hamper progress, Shrivastava's program is an example of how politicians can be a force for good. "This is a first step toward good governance," says Rajkumar Rai, head of the local office of CARE, an international aid organization. "It is very grassroots."

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