Who Run the World? Girls.

Edited By: Sonal Rana 

 

If you walk around the streets of Kerala, it is very likely that you'll see groups of women wearing a maroon vest over their sarees or salwars, doing everything from selling little jars of pickles to collecting waste for recycling. These women, mostly belonging to the lesser privileged sections of the society, are part of a network called Kudumbashree. 

 

Image result for kudumbashree collecting waste

 

Formed in 1997, Kudumbashree is a poverty eradication and women empowerment program implemented by the government of Kerala. Meaning 'prosperity of the family', Kudumbashree employs more than 43 lakh women as of March 2019, and has grown to arguably become one of the largest women's networks in the world. It organizes women at the grassroot level and provides them opportunities to improve their socio-economic condition through micro-credit facilities and employment options.  The women working as part of this endeavour regularly participate in numerous empowerment activities, including providing vocational training, educational exercises, and healthcare facilities. In 2012, they were recognised as a National Resource Organisation by the Indian government. Kudumbashree works with the help of NHGs or Neighbourhood Groups, which comprise of upto twenty women of the same locality. The idea is that women who are in close contact with each other will be able to understand their problems and needs better. These NHGs organize weekly meetings in which they all bring their earnings and eventually pool their savings to avail a loan. Just the very act of being able to open a bank account and create the possibility of a regular income for oneself empowers these women to not only become more independent, but also gain confidence. Some of these NHGs have also grown to become full-fledged businesses worth lakhs of rupees.

 

Image result for kudumbashree

 

One of the areas that the Kudumbashree focuses on is farming. In a state where coconuts are considered as staple, male climbers alone are not sufficient to meet the demand. Today it is not rare to see women climbing trees to harvest coconuts, but every now and then one spots one of the members of Kudumbashree groups further challenge this gendered occupation. In fact, the community farms run by Kudumbashree groups are acknowledged as a critical avenue for the rejuvenation of agricultural production in Kerala.

The women of Kudumbashree are undoubtedly one of the most significant parts of a Malayalis’ daily life. More often than not, they are the ones that take the waste from Keralean house to be recycled, clean the roads Kerlaites travel on, and maybe even grow the vegetables they eat. And when times are tough they’re there. During the floods that ravaged the southern states in 2018, close to four million women mobilised to participate in the relief work including building new houses. Most recently, the network’s members cooked and fed the staff at polling stations in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram on 23rd April. The group followed the Green Protocol, using only steel utensils.

 

Related image

 

Kudumbashree is a vital system not just as a source of income for millions of women, but also as a pathway for them to create an identity for themselves. Since they belong to some of the most vulnerable groups in the country, being part of the collective gives them the power to be independent. Currently Kudumbashree is making efforts to incorporate other sensitive groups such as the tribals and transgender people in their local groups. They are now in the process of signing pacts with 19 states to help them set up similar programmes.