When I was travelling across villages in Kerala, I was surprised to see how progressive women were over there. Everywhere I visited and interacted, I could only see vibrant women who were hardworking and independent. Comparing the state of villages in Kerala with villages in other states like Assam, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, UP, etc, I was astonished to see the difference between the women in Kerala and in other states. Everything from the looking after household activities to running a metro station is done by women in the state.
I was wondering what made them come out of the boundaries of the home and work in fields usually considered the domains of men, and how the state was able to break the barriers between men and women and allow them to participate equally in day-to-day work. If you make a trip around the villages and the cities, then you can that see women are everywhere, starting from running a tea shop to running a vegetable market. Kochi metro station is the only metro station in the country which is fully maintained by women. These women are neither professional nor highly qualified. They are simply literate, and fully empowered and motivated to do something on equal footing with men. They have proved that there is no difference between the work that can be done by men and women.
I was interacting with a woman who runs a vegetable shop in the city, which is 15 kms away from her home. I was quite nervous about interacting with her. It’s not because I was not prepared to interview her, but because I have never met such a vibrant and energetic woman in my life. I always think of my mother as the strongest woman in the world, but seeing these women, I felt that every woman is the strongest. But they need two important things: opportunity, and support from their family, which can be their husband or their children. When a woman gets these two things, then they can break any hurdle of their life. Before interviewing the woman, I had assumed that she might be coming to sell vegetables in the city because of family issues or financial problems, but her responses shocked me and changed my perspective and worldview.
I asked, “Chechi (sister), does your husband support you in your work, or have you started this vegetable shop as your husband doesn’t provide adequate financial support for your home?”
She said, “Beta (son), it is not like the way you are thinking. It is only because of my husband’s constant support that I am able to do this. My husband helps me in procuring vegetables from the nearby market, and always brings lunch for me. It’s not that my husband doesn’t provide financial support for the family. He is an auto driver and he finds time out of his schedule to help me run this shop fruitfully.”
This reply from her was heartwarming for me. I got the answer I was looking for.
What makes them so vibrant and confident in their ability is the potential of Kudumbashree. Kudumbashree (Kerala State Livelihood Mission) is a state government project that aims to eradicate poverty in the state and empower women to make them self-reliant and self-dependent. The name Kudumbashree in Malayalam means ‘prosperity of the family’. The idea of Kudumbashree comes from Muhammad Yunus’ ideas of microfinance. At present, more than 50% of the women in the state are part of Kudumbashree. Kudumbashree consists of a three-tier structure, namely, NHG (Neighborhood Group) at the lowest level or village level, ADS (Area Development Society) at the ward level, and CDS (Community Development Society) at the block level. There are various programs initiated by Kudumbashree which benefit women. Because of the government’s successful implementation of the project, women in the state are empowered and self-reliant. The state itself is an example for other states.