ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Disempowering the Empowered

Closing down the women's empowerment programme Mahila Samakhya will directly affect lakhs of women.

Academics, women’s activists and others have expressed disquiet at the impending closure of the innovative and globally acknowledged women’s empowerment programme, Mahila Samakhya. Yet, is it realistic to expect a government so hostile to non-governmental efforts to continue a partnership of the kind that this programme pioneered? When conceived in 1988 as a pilot project in 10 districts spread over three states, Mahila Samakhya attempted to imbue a government-funded programme for women’s empowerment and literacy with a non-governmental sensibility that encouraged women to set its course. From a top-down effort, the programme actively sought to make it the complete opposite. The fact that it worked and has been around for more than 25 years suggests that something of this kind is possible.

Yet, the central government appears to have decided to stop funding the programme by March 2016. Without these funds, although some parts of the programme could still survive, it would be scaled down drastically, ultimately leading to its closure. The decision is not based on any kind of adverse evaluation of the programme. On the contrary, the latest national evaluation by the Ravi J Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in November 2014, done at the behest of the central government, is largely positive with a few suggestions on how it could be improved. Therefore the decision to stop funding it is as inexplicable as it is opaque.

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