The power of Kudumbashree

The Kerala model can be implemented across India with the same secular and gender-sensitive spirit
Kumari died on September 1. She had contracted leptospirosis while doing relief work in Kerala after the floods, away from her own home which had not been affected. She was a health volunteer and prominent member of the Kudumbashree Mission in her panchayat in Ernakulum district. Kumari’s work and life symbolises the spirit of Kerala reflected in the inspirational way in which the people of the State have faced the worst disaster in a century.
United in relief work
Among the heroic stories of selfless community service are those of the Kudumbashree women, who have perhaps not got the attention they deserve. The attention is necessary not just to accord women relief helpers like Kumari recognition and appreciation, but also to understand how such an enormous, effective and well-planned intervention could be made across the State by women through their own initiatives. Kudumbashree has a three-tier structure. The first is the basic unit — the neighbourhood groups (NGs). There could be several such units within a ward and they are networked through the area development societies (ADS). All ADSs are federated through the community development societies (CDS). There are core committees of elected coordinators at all three levels — at least five in each NG; seven or more at the ADS level, depending on the number of NGs; and around 21 at the CDS level. Unlike in other States, all the coordinators are elected in Kerala. Each Kudumbashree member has a vote. Direct elections for the NG coordinators are held every three years. These people, in turn, elect the coordinators of the ADS who elect the members of the CDS. A majority of the members of the coordinator groups have to belong to women below the poverty line or from comparatively poorer sections. There is reservation for Dalit and Adivasi women. At the district and State levels, employees/officers of the government are appointed on deputation to help the Kudumbashree groups. Thus, there is a socially representative leadership.
This secular composition acts as a facilitator for the secularisation of public spaces. In other States, SHGs came to be dominated by women from better-off families or from powerful castes. This led to unhealthy hierarchies in which poorer women and Dalit women were denied decision-making powers. Over the years, as women dropped out from these sections for a number of reasons, the social potential of the SHGs to challenge dominant structures of gender bias at the local level weakened. The micro-enterprises undertaken by the women NGs in Kerala also strengthen community bonds. These include organic vegetable growing, poultry and dairy, catering and tailoring. The concepts and practices have expanded over the years. Today the community farms run by Kudumbashree groups are acknowledged as a critical avenue for the rejuvenation of agricultural production in Kerala. Kudumbashree training courses are quite comprehensive and include women’s rights, knowledge of constitutional and legal provisions, training in banking practices, and training in skills to set up micro-enterprises. The Kudumbashree groups are therefore often seen as a threat by those who would like women to adhere to socially conformist roles. In earlier years, women of the Kudumbashree groups had to organise protests when the Congress-led government drastically cut the budgetary allocation of funds and floated a parallel Janashree project. The BJP and RSS have also floated parallel groups, but so far these groups have not been able to make much headway.
Although conceived, initiated and helped by the Left Front governments and supported by Left-oriented organisations, the Kudumbashree groups are not affiliated to any political party. This ‘Made in Kerala’ model can be implemented across India, if it is done with the same secular and gender-sensitive spirit.
Brinda Karat is a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and a former Rajya Sabha MP

Source:  https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/the-power-of-kudumbashree/article24963546.ece

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