|Photo Source: Hindu Business Line|
Kudumbashree was the outcome of the collective experience gained from the many anti-poverty programs of the past. Most of the well intentioned but centrally planned, rigid and individual-oriented anti-poverty programs of the central and state government had failed to bring about the desired results, mainly because they did not have any scope for the involvement of the poor. They viewed the poor as "resourceless" recipients of benefits. Launched by the Government of Kerala in 1998 with a view to wipe out absolute poverty from the state through concerted community action under the leadership of local self governments, Kudumbashree today is one of the largest women-empowering projects in the country. The programme has 37 lakh members and covers more than 50% of the households in Kerala. The Kudumbashree initiative has succeeded in addressing the basic needs of the less privileged women and in providing them a more dignified life and a better future. The literal meaning of Kudumbashree is prosperity (shree) of family (Kudumbam). Kudumbashree differs from conventional programmes in that it perceives poverty not just as the lack of money, but also as the deprivation of basic rights. The poor need to find a collective voice to claim these rights. There are two distinguishing characteristics to Kudumbashree which set it apart from the usual SHG model of empowerment. The first one is its universality of reach. From its very inception Kudumbashree has attempted to bring every poor woman in the state within its fold, as a consequence of which today Kudumbashree is present in every village panchayat and municipality, and in nearly every ward, colony and hamlet. The sheer spread is spectacular, and it is only because the local community of women drive the system that it has managed to persevere. The second characteristic is the scope of community interface in local governance. The functioning of Kudumbashree is tied up to the development initiatives of the local government be it for social infrastructure, welfare or right based interventions or for employment generation. From food security to health insurance, from housing to enterprise development, every development experience depends on Kudumbashree to provide the community interface.
The grassroots of Kudumbashree are neighbourhood groups (NHG) that send representatives to the ward level area development societies (ADS). In turn, the ADS sends its representatives to the community development societies (CDS) which completes the unique three tier structure of Kudumbashree. Today, there are 1.94 lakhs NHGs, over 17,000 ADSs and 1061 CDSs in Kudumbashree. In contrast with the previous poverty eradication programmes, there are no specific financial and physical targets set for Kudumbashree. Kudumbashree practices a process approach and not a project approach.
As the mission reaches its 16th year, Kudumbashree has successfully made deep inroads into various sections of Kerala’s society and today stands as a role model for other states in the country for women empowerment. Through its efforts to engage women in civil society and in development issues and opportunities, Kudumbashree, in association with the local self government units of Kerala, is charting out new meaning and possibilities for local economic development and people centric governance