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Kudumbashree’s Magic Formulas Render Unwavering Support in Tough Times of COVID-19 in Kerala

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

In India, formation of ‘Self Help Groups’ has become the most commonly used approach towards uplifting and reaching marginalized groups, particularly women. The term SHG is commonly found co-terminus with the term women’s empowerment. But without doubt, the formation of SHGs have opened many avenues for poor women, including access to credit through microfinance, confidence to initiate and operate group owned enterprises and undertake joint farming on lease lands. 

Women Self Help Group Movement in India has been successful since 1991. Women are best when they are in groups and they often gain strength from a group as they collectively achieve feats they can’t as individuals. These Self Help Groups   transforms itself into a space for expression, motivation and support. Many SHG’s are small scale enterprises which are seasonal with minimal increase in income. India has mobilized over 2 million women living at the bottom of the pyramid into 166, 937 self-help groups and created over 3.75 million jobs for the rural poor. The Women's groups are also disseminating Covid related messages among hard-to-reach populations. 

Kudumbashree is a multi-tier collective of women SHG within the framework of community based organisation (CBO) form Kerala. These have often been cited as models that have worked towards sustainable agriculture based livelihoods for rural women. Kudumbashree was later adopted in the national women farmers’ empowerment programme or the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) a sub-component under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). NRLM is India’s flagship program to reduce poverty by mobilizing poor rural women into self-help groups and building community institutions of the poor. Over the past two decades of the World Banks association, India’s SHG movement has evolved from small savings and credit groups that sought to empower poor rural women, into one of the world’s largest institutional platforms of the poor. Today, 67 million Indian women are members of 6 million SHGs. 

Since 2004, Kudumbashree has facilitated formation of women’s farming groups and enabled their access to land through collective land leasing thus empowering poor rural women with access to almost all crucial resources for farming. Kudumbashree has indeed contributed to the transformation of identity of rural women, from just being ‘agricultural workers’ and helpers on family farms’ to food producers. Some of them have been recognized as master farmers and farms selected as model farms empowerment for formal farming knowledge through trainings and exposure visits, access to inputs and channels of access like the krishibhavans for seeds, fertilisers, and other inputs, and access to credit from formal sources, including nationalised banks. 

 In the middle of the Ongoing Corona Crisis many Women Self Help Groups in over 90 percent of India’s Districts have risen to the amazing challenge of making masks, sanitizers and protective equipment running community kitchens, fighting misinformation and even providing banking and financial solutions to far flung communities.  

It is highly impressive to read the contribution of Kudumbashree in fighting COVID -19 in Kerala. They have risen to the crisis situation by being equally alert in contributing to the states need. Out of the 1304 community kitchens in Kerala, Kudumbashree (State women empowerment programme) successfully runs 1014 community kitchens in convergence with Local Self Government Bodies across 14 districts in Kerala. The community kitchens are in convenient locations chosen by the panchayats or wards – like schools or auditoriums or Kudumbashree units. 238 Janakeeya hotels (people’s restaurants) are now serving budget meals. Owing to the lockdown, they have brought the price down to ₹20 from the earlier proposed price of ₹25. Kudumbashree is spearheading government's Break Chain campaign by raising awareness about hand hygiene and social distancing through mobile phones, posters & weekly meetings. Over the past couple of weeks, these women have produced more than 18.52 lakh cotton masks, helping equip police personnel and health workers, while earning something for themselves. They have distributed about 4492.85 litres of sanitizers. 

They have formed 3 lakh Whatsapp groups to educate about 22 lakh SHG members in Kerala on government instructions regarding Covid-19. They are supplying 1 lakh cloth bags per day for grocery kits. Kudumbashree NHGs make paper covers for Supply-Co to make the food grain supply in the district 'Eco-Friendly'. Nutrimix powder units have been started in all districts to ensure supply during lock down. Kudumbashree has nearly 360 counsellors who has helped counsel nearly 49488 people from last March 15 to till date. The Kudumbashree store on a boat helps people living in Alappuzha in Kerala. The floating supermarket is ensuring the supply of essential commodities amidst the lockdown is the highlight of the Kudumbashree Project. The programme has about 50,000 activities spread across various sectors including production, livelihood and service. 

Kudumbashree runs different kinds of activities during the lock down period. An agriculture campaign was started by Kudumbashree Kottayam District Mission to get rid off the boredom, mental stress during this lockdown period. It also aims at encouraging organic farming and healthy eating habits. 'Kudumbashree Theatre', is an initiative of Kudumbashree Kasaragod District Mission for artists from the Kudumbashree fraternity to perform live on Facebook at the crisis Situation of Covid-19 .Malappuram District Mission have taken up the task of delivering the free ration and grocery kits in the remote tribal hamlets in the district and set a unique model. Kudumbashree formed this unique collective in Kumbalangi in Ernakulam District during the days of nation-wide lockdown to help out families in the panchayat get essential commodities even during the times of uncertainty.  Each day Kudumbashree is adding one more service to its credit to help people find everything they need during lockdown days. 

According to Valsala Kumari , an Ex Director of Kudumbashree  as reported to news minute she states  unlike the schemes in other states, Kudumbashree is not a self-help group. It is instead a neighbourhood group that drastically differs from the former. The basis of this programme is the idea that, for a woman, other women living in the same neighbourhood is more likely to provide support than any random group of women,” 

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