India is a country that in its current time and developmental stage, finds itself grappling with the push and pull between traditionalism and modernity; especially in the rural areas of the country, where traditional patriarchy operates and women are literally restricted within the household space. The situation was even worse in 1989, when the program was launched.
It deals with the culture specific issues of the country, combating through formation of alternative learning centres, residential camps and early development centres. The presence of Mahila Samakhya today spans 12000 villages, 06 districts in 9 states of the country, including Jharkhand and Bihar. It works around the idea of equality of gender in education.The Mahilya Samakhya programme is sponsored by the Union Government’s department of education, the World Bank and UNICEF, including many others. Through participatory methods, it focusses on capacity building of women and equipping them better for the everyday challenges of life.
It was announced recently that funding to the programme shall cease from 31st March 2016. The government is planning to merge the program with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). Through 26 years of acting and impacting on feminist principles, Mahila Samakhya has reached out to over 1.5 million women and received recognition and appreciation from various national and international organizations that have lauded the precision in targeting the wide range of gender issues at the grassroots, and bringing sustainable change.
The government from time to time has cited the MS as one of its areas of success. The most remarkable feature of the program has been that it has put very little burden on the exchequer Vis-a-Vis the objectives that it has achieved. It functions on the facilitative model, where the women collectives that are formed are funded by the program for 3 years, after which they become independent. The XIth Plan had an outlay of 200 crore for the project, to which livemint evaluates that women annually contribute more than Rs.160 crore worth of their time to provide collective and public goods that should have been the state’s responsibility in the first place. The XIIth plan also acknowledged that there is an abysmally low percentage of disbursements in women related schemes. The Planning Commission was replaced by the Niti Ayog before the completion of the XIIth term.
The best thing about MS is that it has been able to create safer spaces in villages where women are able to come together and have a dialogue their thoughts. They are parallels of the support groups and panel discussions women organize in urban areas, where we talk about issues that are intrinsic to our lives. Its long presence in the lives of these women has also built a trust factor where they are able make unrestrained connections with the group.
Its merger with the NRLM program is bound to undermine its value and blend it into the background. The objectives of the MS and NRLM are very different, each with significant importance. While MS does empower women to be employed, the key are of functioning of the group if to fight against gender inequality in education, an issue that cannot be put in the background, especially with the dynamic changes that education and pedagogy are going through in times of the digital revolution in India; There is still left much to be achieved.