Modi government’s proposal to merge Mahila Samkhya programme with National Rural Livelihood Mission is unacceptable to women’s rights activists, researchers and scholars who have worked with the programme
By Team FI
Expressing their concern about the government of India decision, reportedly, to close down the Mahila Samkhaya (MS) programme, women’s rights activists, researchers, academics, scholars calling themselves as friends of Mahila Samkhya have written an open letter the Minister of Human Resources and Development (MHRD).
The MS programme was launched in 1988, as per the website of MHRD to pursue the objectives of the National Policy on Education, 1986, which “recognized that the empowerment of women is possibly the most critical pre-condition for the participation of girls and women in the educational process.” Though there has been no formal announcement, it has been understood that negotiations are currently on for the state societies of the MS programme to be merged with National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).
The letter stated that “the rationale for a merger of MS with NRLM is also unclear, given that an independent evaluation commissioned by the Ministry of Education and undertaken by IIM Ahmedabad in 2014 strongly recommended expansion of the scheme.”
As per the National Review of the MS in 2014 by the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, the programme “covers 130 districts and 679 blocks/ mandals in the country. MS covers 36% of the blocks/ mandals in the districts in which it is working. This indicates significant coverage on average.” The review also states that MS “has a presence in 44,446 villages, that is in about a quarter of the villages of the districts where it is present. In the villages under MS coverage, there are 55,402 sanghas. About 32% of these (17507) are under autonomous federations. This is a significant number and reflects the move towards greater autonomy and independence for the older sanghas. The sangha membership stands at 14,41,9286. There are 325 federations; 156(48%) are autonomous. There are 21,825 savings and credit groups, with 5,31,239 members (about 37% of the total sangha membership).”
As per the review, the programme “is involved in 102 Mahila Shikshan Kendras with an enrolment of 2989. Cumulatively, under the programme, there are 28,507 MSK alumni, and 17,606 of these (62%) have been mainstreamed into formal schools. There are 16,864 alternative learning centres of various kinds in most states. In four states MS runs 187 KGBVs and in one state there are 802 NPEGEL centres. There are 23,026 kishori sanghas with 5,23,701 members. There are 481 Nari Adalats, which have dealt with, cumulatively, 30,410 cases up to now. A total of 30,090 sangha members have contested panchayati raj elections, and 12,905 (43%) have been elected. “
The review stated that MS has “successfully mobilized marginalized women; nearly 90% of the sangha membership is drawn from the disadvantaged sections of society. SC and ST constitute 56% of the sangha membership at the national level.” The review sampled 72 sanghas and as per the discussions with these sanghas, the review stated that “the inter-generational shift in favour of girls’ education is strong.
In the families of those members who do not have formal education, the younger generation of girls is doing well; 77% of the members with no formal education have all the girls in their families in the age group of 6 to 16 in school. Members with formal education, though, still seem to be at an advantage, but the picture with respect to those members without formal education is encouraging.”
The letter presents a detailed study of the relevance and scope of Mahila Samkhya programme stating that “The MS experience proves that expansion of women’s autonomy, agency and voice cannot come about through atomised initiatives for “economic empowerment”, “political empowerment”, “legal empowerment” and so on. This complex and holistic understanding of empowerment is not confined to the programme document – it is clearly and strongly articulated by sangha members.”