In 2014, Statistics South Africa reported that even though poverty levels are decreasing, around 20% of the population (just over million people) still lived in extreme poverty under the food poverty line (FPL) in 2011. The FPL is the level of consumption below which individuals are unable to purchase sufficient food to provide them with an adequate diet. The 2011 FPL was R321 per person per month. Nationally in 2011, 47% of females were living in poverty and 58% of poor people lived in rural areas.
In South Africa, the SHG approach is specifically targeted at women from vulnerable households, mostly in rural communities (with some in peri-urban areas), with the understanding that when a woman is empowered and develops herself, then her children and household will automatically experience the benefits. The "poorest of the poor" are identified within a community using participatory methods and selected women are invited to form an SHG.

The majority of women who join an SHG fit into the following broad profile:
  • Total household income is under R1 000/month for the majority of SHG members who join an SHG - this increases for some if a pensioner resides within the household or if at least 4 children under 18 years are receiving Child Support Grants;
  • Has an average of six household members, with 2-3 members being children under 18 years;
  • Only a minority have any household member in regular or casual employment;
  • Moe than 90% of households depend heavily on government social grants to survive, mainly through one or more child support grants and/or a pension;
  • Examples of the main reported shocks to the household over recent years include serious injury or illness to household member, death of household member, divorce or abandonment by husband/partner, household member lost job, cut-off in government grant.

By June 2015, more than 17 000 women were members in 1 268 functioning SHGs formed by active Sinamandla partners with total savings across all groups of R4,2 million and more than 113 000 loans worth R23 million given out.

The South African government's social grant system reached and benefited around 16,2 million South Africans in 2014 (11,3 million are children under 18 years and 2,9 million are pensioners over 60 years). South Africa is currently one of the biggest social grant spenders worldwide - over R22 billion will be spent on social grants in 2014/15. Many rural women and their families struggle to survive without the state pension that the grandmother receives or the Child Support Grant that the mother receives for her children. However, high levels of poverty and inequality continue to persist in South Africa despite the billions of Rands transferred to poor households every month. It is evident that a regular income source from the government alone will not lift poor households out of poverty.

Many rural women in South Africa are trapped in poverty with little access to resources and information, living in a patriarchal tradition that places a lower value on their contribution within the household and does not allow them to participate in everyday decision-making or make broader life choices. The impact of the AIDS pandemic over the last decade has greatly exacerbated the burden of poverty that women and their families face.

Poverty and HIV/AIDS are integrally linked. Families with people infected with HIV/AIDS are more likely to fall into poverty as people get sick, are less able to work, prioritise medical and funeral costs over other expenses, and in some cases, are forced to sell productive assets to meet urgent and immediate needs. With growing medical and funeral costs, families are becoming less able to meet the basic needs of children in their care. The greatest burden of HIV/AIDS is borne by families and communities that support large numbers of dependants. The vast majority of orphaned children are being cared for within networks of close kin. The impact of HIV/AIDS has left many grandmothers in the role of primary caregiver and many African female-headed households live in chronic poverty.

Addressing poverty and the empowerment of women through the form of self-help and collective action is not a new concept; the SHG approach has been promoted and implemented successfully for several decades in India, and has also been introduced in other African countries.

The SHG project team of each implementing partner collects data on an ongoing basis from the admission book and minute book of each SHG. The admission book records information on each group member at formation; while the SHG minute book details attendance, savings, loans taken and repaid, interest paid, and the minutes of each weekly meeting. Every SHG member has their own individual savings and loan book.

Examples of benefits to women in an SHG Example of benefits to children
- Increased self-confidence and skills acquired through capacity-building;
- Increased household income and savings through easier access to loans for consumption, development and income generation needs;
- Increased personal support from SHG members within a sharing/caring environment;
- Increased awareness of household/community needs;
- More involvement in community projects;
- Increased voice within the household and community and ability to make decisions;
- Increased ability to care for and meet the basic needs of her children;
- Increased ability to contribute towards funeral costs or an unexpected crisis.
- Improved nutrition in children;
- Increased access to education;
- Improved access to health and access to treatment for children;
- Increased self-confidence and coping skills in a mother/grandmother leads to improved parenting of children;

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