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Creating social space for women Taking stock of Kudumbasree

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K.A. Martin

Varying nature of women enterprises in Ernakulam looks impressive

KOCHI: Shantakumari Mohan is still excited about the book-making and binding unit near Perumbavoor she and her seven friends launched eight years ago with a capital of Rs.2.5 lakh.

They have even diversified now, to use a corporate jargon, into hospitality industry — a shop that serves breakfast and lunch, a business Ms. Mohan, mother of two, and her friends enjoy doing.

Both their ventures are successful and the women enterprise has shored up family incomes substantially.

Ms. Mohan says she would not have done what she did if it was not for the Kudumbasree poverty eradication mission, now celebrating its 10th year.

When Alli Baby who ran a tuition centre wanted to supplement the family income she and her friends decided to start a bakery unit four years ago under guidance from the Kudumbasree mission.

They put together their savings and took a bank loan to set up Ruchishree Bakery at Mazhuvannoor. The bank loan repayment of nearly Rs.5,000 a month has been regular and their earnings from the business, though meagre now, have kept it running. Once the bank loan is paid up, the earnings are going to be much better, she says.

Individual and group testimonies like these are many and impressive and you suddenly start to feel that a decade is not too short a period to judge a programme aimed at uplifting the poorest of the poor in a society.

Space in society

The Kudumbasree mission, apart from freeing rural women from the hold of unscrupulous moneylenders by encouraging thrift, has succeeded in creating a space for women in society, increasing their visibility in the social context and empowering them to take up issues they might not have taken up otherwise, says K.N. Harilal, member of the State Planning Board and a keen observer of the programme in the State.

Mission Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sharada Muraleedharan says Kudumbasree has developed into the largest community structure for women in the State. It has addressed the basic needs of the women. Thrift collection has soared to Rs.1,000 crore over the last five to six years, bank loans for Rs.700 crore has been raised and around Rs.2,800 crore has circulated within the system, she says.

This narrative is backed by the sheer numbers that tell us the tale of great penetration by Kudumbasree.

The number of families covered by the programme in Ernakulam district is 2,13,449 and the number of community-based organisations (CBSs) 16,503, including neighbourhood groups that meet every weekend to sort out problems and have, in the process, become the core of the outreach programme.

Micro-enterprises

There are 1,288 micro-enterprises in the district. The varying nature of the enterprises is very impressive. Garments, soap and soap products, furniture, candle, dairy products, flours, bakery items, fish products, hollow bricks, goat rearing, catering and Ayurvedic products are a few of them.

Criticism

The Kudumbasree mission takes up these new tasks amid queries from its well-meaning critics, the most widely raised being the question of sustainability of Kudumbasree-inspired enterprises.

Putting it more futuristically, the question concerns Kudumbasree enterprises’ failure to break the glass barrier or reach a second stage of development in which they are able to generate substantial income and acquire a common brand image worthy of the numbers and reach portrayed here.

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