SMART NGO empowers Mewat’s women to forge their financial futures


Shehnaaz stretched on tiptoes, reaches out for the tin sugar container kept on a high shelf in her kitchen. She pops open the tin and quickly sifts through three well-worn ten-rupee notes and two crisper twenties, tucking them into the naura, the specially designed drawstring of her salwar, which functions like a hidden pocket. It […]

Shehnaaz stretched on tiptoes, reaches out for the tin sugar container kept on a high shelf in her kitchen. She pops open the tin and quickly sifts through three well-worn ten-rupee notes and two crisper twenties, tucking them into the naura, the specially designed drawstring of her salwar, which functions like a hidden pocket. It is common among women of Mewat to hide their money this way.

She carefully covers her face with a dupatta, a shield against the harsh May sun which also acts as a customary veil as she joins other village women on their way to a nearby bank. They are attending a financial literacy workshop, a lifeline for Shehnaaz, who was widowed ten years ago and left with nothing. She has learned to fiercely guard her money, a lesson forged in hardship. “I knew nothing about my husband’s assets,” she recalls, the pain of grief mingled with the frustration of financial ignorance. “He had a shop, but I didn’t know where the property papers were kept. I wasn’t even aware of his bank account number.”

Farheen of Radio Mewat in office. Photo Credit: SMART

Farheen, the 25-year-old voice of Radio Mewat, scrolls through Flipkart’s endless options. She wants to buy a dress for a relative’s wedding and is looking for the perfect shade of fuschia. After what seems like an eternity, she finds the right hue. With a tap, she makes her online payment, the anticipation for her new outfit growing with each passing moment.

Muskaan, a 28-year-old Asha worker, was abandoned by her husband a few years ago. Left to fend for herself and her four children, she relies on her education and a small savings she’s managed to build over time. As one of the few women in Mewat with a fixed deposit, she has become an advocate for financial independence, educating other women on the importance of saving for a rainy day.

In Mewat, a region where women face significant challenges like early marriage, domestic violence, and limited access to healthcare, a quiet revolution is underway. Women are increasingly recognizing the importance of taking control of their lives, and financial independence is emerging as a crucial first step towards autonomy.

SMART NGO’s initiative, “Faayde ki Baat: Empowering Women through Financial Inclusion,” is at the forefront of this movement. By educating and empowering 5,000 women across 60 villages in Nuh about financial matters, the project aims to equip them with the knowledge and tools needed to manage their finances and pursue new opportunities.

Financial literacy narrowcasting organised by Radio Mewat. Photo Credit: SMART

SMART employs a multi-pronged approach, establishing women’s groups and leveraging its popular community radio platform, Radio Mewat, to disseminate vital information on financial products, schemes, and services.  Skits woven around themes of saving, opening bank accounts, and the power of financial independence are broadcast on the airwaves and narrowcast during Panchayat meetings, striking a chord with women across the region and igniting a spark of transformation.

The organization also assists women in opening bank accounts and connects them and their families to various government schemes. It raises awareness about eight key government programs, including Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, and others, highlighting the benefits accessible through bank accounts, such as skill development, self-employment opportunities, medical coverage, and financial protection for girl children.

“While challenges like documentation issues and defunct bank accounts persist, SMART’s engagement has revealed women’s determination to overcome these obstacles and participate in the formal financial system,” says Mehek Rastogi, Senior Program Manager.

Mehek Rastogi, Senior Program Manager, SMART in Gohana, Haryana with local women. Photo Credit: SMART

The organization’s grassroots workers are also working to promote behavioral changes among bank employees, advocating for more respectful and supportive treatment of women seeking financial services, she says.

Despite low levels of education, the women of Mewat possess a keen understanding of financial matters. “They may lack formal education, but when it comes to money, they’re incredibly sharp,” says Farheen, who is the sole breadwinner of her family.

Women who have endured domestic violence or dowry harassment recognize the government schemes as a lifeline for their children’s financial security. The Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, a savings scheme with increased interest rates for daughters, is especially popular among them. This eagerness to embrace financial literacy and open bank accounts not only reflects their desire for personal empowerment but also their determination to secure a brighter future for their children, free from the burdens they have faced.