Women’s empowerment

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Stree Shakti literally meaning woman power is a visible name today adopted by some NGOs as their brand names, as also some government programmes and initiatives. A national award instituted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India is also called Stree Shakti. However the name has become largely synonymous with a larger public private community partnership programme in Delhi, which started in the form of Stree Shakti camps and later evolved into a network of Stree Shakti Kendras all over the city. The project focussed on reaching out to poor women and providing them, social, economic and legal empowerment, through access to healthcare facilities, non-formal education, vocational training and awareness on legal issues. It became one of focus areas of Bhagidari: a Citizen – Government partnership initiative of the government, with NGOs becoming key instruments for community outreach. An Evaluation of the project undertaken by the Institute for Human Development, Delhi (2006) brought out interesting observations. These camps successfully bridged the gap between community and public health system and in three years, nearly 2 lakhs women had been benefited. Camp volunteers were the main agents of spreading awareness as they conducted pre-registration survey, and collected health related information. Beneficiaries reported satisfaction on account of easy contact with doctors, satisfaction with doctors’ behaviour and free availability of medicines. Convergence aspect stood out strongly since the initiative brought various departments together on a common platform – health department, ICDS for Nutrition awareness, and other like State AIDS Control Society, TB society, Legal Service Authority, Training & Technical Education, Education etc. Use of school buildings as venue led to spin off benefit of schools turning into community hubs. The Evaluation Report reflected that the project clearly brought changes for better in the lives of deprived women through decentralized delivery process, and increased level of awareness amongst women regarding quality of life. Skill development trainings widened the income generation opportunities. Legal awareness increased and women came out in the open to fight against dowry related, family-related and other injustices. Increase in number of SHGs opened opportunities for accessibility to market and finance. It was pointed out that the major strength of this set up was the conceptual acceptance that women find it difficult to come out of household chore even if opportunities are there and hence bringing services to their doorstep was important. It was also observed that the intervention constantly needed growth and modification with changing ‘needs’ and ‘situation’ – in covering the untouched and newer dimensions of women’s empowerment.

Some of the other major recommendations were to have district nodal NGOs, creating annual baseline to determine area-wise target group, spacing camps to be organised quarterly rather than monthly, strengthening linkages, setting concentrate indicators and measurable goals, and institutionalizing a system of third party evaluations.

These suggestions were taken forward in the year 2008 when Mission Convergence, Delhi was started with an attempt to bring convergence amongst hosts of government schemes and programmes meant for poor. The groundwork of Stree Shakti served extremely useful in giving the new initiative a bottom up approach. The scope of Mission Convergence was much larger compared to Stree Shakti but some of the key elements remained the same. The Mission adopted a horizontal vision cutting across sectors and departments against the conventional approach of government’s functioning in departmental mode or moving through vertical channels across departments. ‘Bhagidari’ was taken to another level, with priority for action at the bottom of the pyramid in active collaboration with Non-Governmental organizations with strong field presence. The focus was on women and reaching out to families through women. Slums, JJ colonies, resettlement colonies, and other ‘vulnerable’ locations became the target areas for intervention. The programme was recognized for its pioneering work in inclusive governance and community engagement by the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) and also became the recipient of the United Nations Public Service Award.

For effective implementation in mission mode, a Special Purpose Vehicle called Samajik Suvidha Sangam was set up in May, 2008 involving government functionaries from 9 departments and social sector experts. More than 120 local NGOs became partners and served as extended arms of government of mobilizing people at grass roots to avail pensions, and other social security schemes, besides public services in health, education, legal aid, and skill training.

Some innovative strategies used to make convergence possible were the use of common eligibility criteria and common application forms by different departments, common database of ‘vulnerable’ through massive household and street survey which could be used by different departments for better targeting of their schemes and create a more realistic and accurate estimate of poverty; creation of ‘single-window’ facilitation centres close to communities to assist with linkages with government departments; decentralization and devolution of power to the districts; computerization and networking of all extension outposts; innovative ways of capacity development of NGOs, government functionaries, and the target group; financial inclusion for women through SHGs and individual bank accounts etc. A path breaking measure was adoption of new criteria to identify the city’s poor. Proxy indicators of income using spatial, social and occupational dimensions of vulnerability were developed under the guidance of experts of national repute. A separate survey was undertaken to identify the homeless who were categorized as “most vulnerable”, and special programmes were initiated to support this category especially the destitute women. The strong gender focus in Mission Convergence became the strength of the programme. One of the core pillars of the programme became its emphasis on development of human capital of women through strengthening measures for improved health, literacy levels, and skill building. The Stree Shakti- Suvidha Kendras created under the Mission, mobilized women in their catchments area and enrolled them under different schemes and services, including mobilizing them to join Self-help Groups. The creation of database of 13 lakh potentially vulnerable households provided a strong empirical base for budgetary planning and higher allocations across different schemes of the government. Delhi became the second state after Maharashtra to kick-start the UID programme, and getting the ‘Aadhar’ number in the city for a homeless, destitute woman along with a bank account in her name. The survey identified various vulnerable categories-such as physically and mentally challenged women, those affected with debilitating diseases, in hazardous occupation, women headed households, destitute women etc.

The collaboration which Mission Convergence forged with civil society organizations was significant in terms of scale and impact. Sharing of power and authority with civil society organizations (CSOs) demonstrated a new model of GO-NGO collaboration. The programme itself empowered the CSOs to question government’s performance and decisions, and inform policy.

On the national canvass too, there has been a wide recognition of the need to break silos and create convergence mechanisms across schemes and programmes. The initiative came from the first woman president of the country, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil to set up a Committee of Governors in 2008 to study and recommend strategies for speedy socio-economic development and empowerment of woman. The Committee gave its recommendations in February 2009 which was considered by a Group of Ministers and thereafter the Finance Minister in his Budget Speech announced:-

  1. Setting up a High Powered Committee of eminent persons and experts to study the Status of Women of India to enable the Government to take expeditious action;

  2. Setting up a ‘National Mission for Empowerment of Women’ for implementation of women-centric programmes in a Mission mode to achieve better coordination and synergy amongst the participating stake-holds; and

  3. Restructuring of the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK), a government run micro finance agency, to scale up its activities and to function as a single window facilitators and service provider for women Self-Help Groups (SHGs).

As a sequel to this, Ministry of Women Child Development has set up a high level committee under Justice Ruma Pal. The corpus of RMK was substantially enhanced and structural modifications introduced for enabling the agency to serve as a more vibrant institution. The National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) was launched by the Hon’ble President on 8th March, 2010. During the launch of the Mission on International Women’s Day, 2010, the spirit of this new initiative for women was very comprehensively encapsulated by the Hon’ble President herself as seen from the following excerpt from her speech on the occasion at Vigyan Bhawan:

“The socio-economic development of women is deeply intertwined and if one dimension remains absent, the outcome would suffer. The Mission, with its objective of ensuring that the benefits of schemes and programmes of the Central, as well as State Governments, reach their intended beneficiaries through convergence and coordination, gives me hope that it will bridge this gap between “what is” and “what ought to be”. But in order to make this a reality, the Central Government, States, and civil society would need to work together. Every citizen of this country has a role to play in making it successful. I would regard this Mission as a gift to the women of the country on the occasion of International Women’s Day.”

One of the primary objectives of the Mission is to oversee gender mainstreaming of programmes, policies, institutional arrangements and processes of participating Ministries, institutions and organizations, and undertake awareness generation to fuel the demand for benefits under various schemes and programmes. The Mission Authority is headed by the Prime Minister, and has 13 partner ministries with WCD ministry as the nodal ministry. This Mission is an attempt to put women’s concerns at the very core of public policy and governance with the goal of social and economic empowerment of women with particular emphasis on health, education and livelihood, progressively eliminating violence against women, and reducing information gap between users and providers of services and entitlements.

White reaching out to state governments through state mission authorities, Mission is catalyzing state actions for review of schemes, programmes and legislations with a gender lens, and conduct of gender audit and outcome assessment. Technical support is being provided to the states through the National Resource Centre set up as an inter-sectoral, multi-disciplinary body at the centre to draw up state action plans for improving gender development indices, and setting up requisite institutional mechanisms such as State Resource Centre for Women with funding support from the central government. A series of regional conferences were held in February-April, 2012 covering all States and UTs for sharing best practices on inter-sector convergence of scheme meant for women and to build capacities of practitioners on effective strategies for convergence, while customizing the same to regional perspectives and challenges. Some of the common grounds which emerged were the need to have an integrated approach to simultaneously address social, economic, and political empowerment, adopting a life cycle approach, creating gender focal points at all levels, instituting systems for collecting and using gender disaggregated data, focus on gender sensitization and public education on gender issues, increasing awareness on government schemes and programmes, strengthening capacities, fostering women’s collectives as instruments of social change, rationalizing existing schemes, institutionalizing and strengthening participatory governance framework, and creating a robust system of ongoing monitoring and review.

Amongst some of the tools for gender mainstreaming which this Mission is focussing is Gender Budgeting (GB). The purpose of GB is to ensure the translation of Government’s policy commitments on gender equity into budgetary allocations. To institutionalize the process of Gender Budgeting, Gender Budget Cells (GBCs) were set up in all Central Ministries/Departments in 2005. These GBCs are envisaged to serve as focal points for coordinating gender budgeting initiatives within their Ministers and across Departments. Currently, 56 Ministries/Departments of Government of India have set up Gender Budgeting Cells. A significant breakthrough in mainstreaming GB in India has been the introduction of GB Statement (20) in the Union Budget 2005-06. The GB Statement has emerged as an important tool for bringing together all information on the allocations for women. It serves as a reporting mechanism and provides an indication of the funds flowing to women. Over the years, the number of Ministries/Departments reporting in the GB Statement has gone up from 9 (2005-06) to 29 (2011-12). Also the magnitude of GB allocations as a percentage of total budgets has gone up from 2.79 percent in 2005-06 to 6.22 per cent in 2011-12. Ministry of WCD is the nodal agency for GB.


The approach of addressing issues related to empowerment of women from a holistic and macro-point of view acknowledging the cross cutting linkages between economic, social and political identity of woman presents a new hope. There is increasing recognition that these factors are deeply intertwined and if efforts in any one dimension remains absent or weak, the outcome and momentum generated by the other components cannot be sustained, and that it is only when all these three factors are addressed simultaneously and made compatible with each other can women be truly empowered. Therefore, for the holistic empowerment of women, all ministries and departments would need to energize synergistic measures through more effective use of tools such as Gender Budgeting and platforms such as the National Mission for Empowerment of Women. The gender convergence mantra also holds a key to inclusive governance and our cherished dream of growth with justice and equity. Women’s concerns have to be kept at the centre of public policy, developmental planning and governance, with recognition of their role as critical growth agents and as ambassadors of social change.

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