Nurturing voices of the excluded
'Empowerment' begins by giving the women an opportunity to chart their own destinies, an opportunity they are almost universally denied otherwise
No one likes a government programme that does not spend much. Most likely, you would not have even heard of the Mahila Samakhya (MS) programme. It is a 26-year-old low-investment programme that is slanted towards the socially disadvantaged, including its nearly 15 lakh female participants, of whom more than 55% are from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, in some of the most disadvantaged blocks of 11 states. And it has made a positive difference—confirmed by a government-commissioned national evaluation conducted by us last year. Hence, it is surprising to learn that there is now a proposal to merge it with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). NRLM is a worthy programme, with well-defined objectives that are complementary to, but no substitute for, those of MS. The proposed merger risks losing sight of MS’s objectives, which go beyond the realm of livelihoods and have been pursued with reasonable success. Imparting skills and nurturing livelihoods is essential, but grossly insufficient in overcoming the structural exclusions that MS has tried to address.