The Mahila Samakhya – meaning education for women’s equality – was launched in 1989 by the Government of India in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka.

Today, Mahila Samakhya is active in 12,000 villages, over 60 districts in 9 states including Bihar, where UNICEF and Mahila Samakhya have been partners for a long time. The guiding principle of the programme is the centrality of education in empowering women to achieve basic equality. It strives to make women aware, empowered, capable and self-reliant.

Mahila Samakhya has been particularly successful in targeting out-of-school girls by working with the community to create learning opportunities in alternative centres, residential camps and early childhood development centres.

But now, the intiative which has made big contributions to women’s empowerment over a time period of 26 years, might cease to exist after March 2016. If not that then it might, at the very least, lose its status as an independent movement.

The central government has informed them that Mahila Samakhya will cease to get funding after the end of this financial year, reports Scroll.

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This is exactly the reason why the women of Mahila Samakhya Bihar have sent over one lakh postcards to PM Modi. They want to bring this grave injustice to his attention. All evaluations of the programme – including the most recent one carried out by IIM Ahmedabad in December 2014 – have validated 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. 

As one woman told The Times of India, “HRD minister Smriti Irani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi want to extinguish the most successful women’s empowerment programmes in India. Mahila Samakhya (MS) has reached out and empowered countless numbers of women over the past 25 years.”

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The name of the scheme means “equal value to women”, and it comes under the HRD ministry, as it has spread to 130 districts in 11 states. Around 2000 members work for it, and Nari Adalats run by the members has been able to solve cases for 30,000 women.

Despite the success of the program, the funding has been decreasing consistently and has been irregular in the past ten years. But since the centre has not declared anything about scrapping the scheme altogether, speculation is that it might be merged with the National Rural Livelihood Mission.

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Apart from the fact that NRLM focuses only on low level skill development for self employment, which is a fraction of the work Mahila Samakhya does, the merger will also mean lack of autonomy for the initiative.

Women from Mahila Samakhya have worked together to build health centres, savings and credit groups, and have been effectively handling government run schools for girls. Their work has been recognised by UN, UNESCO, UNICEF, and even the centre has cited it to show successful compliance with guidelines of CEDAW.

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While other well funded and publicised schemes of the government haven’t been able to achieve much, 56% of the Sangha members in MS are from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. 30,090 women from MS contested panchayat elections, of which 12,905 won, indicating at a lot of major achievements ahead.

While the scheme has had a high impact despite depleting support over the years, the government needs to understand the boost it can give to other initiatives for women by nurturing Mahila Samakhya. 

All images sourced from Reuters

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