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Women’s rights activists, researchers, academics and scholars have written to the Minister of HRD against the government’s reported move to close the Mahila Samakhya programme. The letter, written in the backdrop of the announcement that the programme would not be funded after 31 March 2016 and a reported move to merge it with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, urges the government to retain the autonomy and unique character of this globally lauded programme.
The signatories to the letter include several individuals who have contributed significantly in building an inclusive policy framework and enabling public environment for gender equality in education, who have spoken eloquently of how they have been enriched through their association with Mahila Samakhya.
Mahila Samakhya, launched in the late 1980s as a flagship initiative under the National Education Policy of 1984, works to mobilise rural women to define and chart the course of their own empowerment. The programme, which now covers 10 States, 44,446 villages and nearly 1.5 million rural women, is recognised by policy-makers for its success in expanding access to education for women and girls, and by movement activists for its commitment to feminist principles and its rich experience of translating a range of rights into reality on the ground.
The letter points out that all evaluations of the programme – including the most recent one carried out by IIM Ahmedabad in December 2014 – have lauded the achievements of Mahila Samakhya and acknowledged that it has led to more fundamental, lasting and sustainable changes in women’s lives than other more narrowly-targeted programmes.
The report of the 2014 evaluation confirms that MS has enabled marginalised women to enter the public domain, acquire voice and agency and contribute to meeting national goals on education and development of women and girls. The report also validates the success of the programme in reaching out to the most excluded social groups and in enabling women to challenge and oppose patriarchal social practices and regressive traditions such as child marriage, caste discrimination and the devadasi system.
There has been no public discussion on the future of the programme, or on the rationale for ending funding from the education budget despite the positive evaluation. A member of the evaluation team is also a signatory to the letter.
Mahila Samakhya has been internationally recognised for its unique approach to women’s education and empowerment, its innovative strategies and its impressive ground level presence. Case studies on Mahila Samakhya have been regularly showcased as ‘best practices’ in publications by UNICEF, UNDP and UNESCO. Several independent scholars and institutions have drawn on the MS experience to expand the global discourse on women’s empowerment. The Government of India has regularly highlighted the MS programme in its compliance reports on CEDAW and other international conventions.
The group has urged the government to expand the scale and reach of the MS programme to cover all those districts with low indicators of women’s development. The letter emphasises the need to provide continued support to sangha members and programme functionaries who have given the best years of their lives to building the programme. “Closing MS would block these empowered women from influencing the course of development and the achievement of sustainable development goals, and would be a huge loss to the nation” says the letter.
Sign the online petition here: