Life was never an easy go for Jayanti Ekka who struggled through the thick and thin to reach the pinnacle of success. However, she is an iconic figure now, thanks to the Odisha Government’s Mission Shakti Movement. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was so much enthused by her success story that he gave a standing ovation during a state-level meeting in Bhubaneswar. Under her leadership in Sundergarh, the federation runs 15,000 SHGs.

Not only Jayanti, but millions of women in the state have also been benefited from the scheme that shows a sign of empowerment of women.

While we are moving onto celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 very soon, the changing role of women in the state of Odisha is a milestone that has been brought through Mission Shakti Programme.

We may be living in an independent country but equality has not yet been celebrated, as against the commitment and space created for and around it.

Talking about the prospect of equality, we have a very big issue hovering under the umbrella, the issue of the right to equality of women in society.

To add to their empowerment chore, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik pledged to yield 33% women candidates in the coming Lok Sabha elections. This is against the backdrop of the Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33% of all Lok Sabha and state assembly seats for women, hanging fire in Parliament for around a quarter-century.

There is a need to provide equitable space for women in society and rural women are the neediest ones. While there are bottlenecks in the implementation of several women-centric programmes in our state, however, this is a good move that the state bats for 33 % reservation for women in electoral representation. Mission Shakti, if implemented in letter and spirits in the state would benefit women of our state multifariously, said Naba Kishor Pujari a social activist who works for the socio-economic and political rights of the women in the state.

Rural women face more problems than women living in urban areas because the proper channel to claim their rights never reach them, as a result, their voices were never heard in the orthodox and patriarchal mindset of the rural society. Several strategic methods have been used to tackle this problem but the government and the other NGOs working in this sector receive disappointing results despite their dedicated efforts. One such effort is the “Mission Shakti” which is a flagship programme initiated by the Government of Odisha in 2001.

It is a movement which encourages women in the rural society to come forward and share hands with other women to form Self-Help Groups (SHGs) which empowers them by providing remunerative and income-generating activities with a little help in social, economic and market linkage by the investors interested in providing a helping hand to the government.

This programme came into existence, as a result, to eradicate poverty during the 1980s which articulated that women with their small and micro-scale enterprises can earn a living and finally help in a slow but steady improvement in the socio-economic development. So this initiative was given a push and was made into a flagship programme in the hope to transform the lives of the rural women. And it was named as Mission Shakti as “Shakti” symbolizes power and the work going on in here is empowering women which suit the attitude of the programme undoubtedly.

Mission Shakti, after covering a long journey of 19 years holds a bold background with many troughs and crests being obvious in this sector. But the main motive of this movement has thus far succeeded in bringing smiles on the face of the rural women by empowering them and giving them a position to stand and make a difference in this ever-changing society. Till date about 70 lakh women are part and members of the existing SHGs in Odisha and statistically about 6 lakh SHGs have been formed under this mission, which itself is a matter of pride for the state as well as for the nation.

Due to the success of the Mission Shakti programme, it was also announced to be included in the “MO Sarkar Yojana” initiated by Mr Patnaik’s Govt. which is people-centric governance under the 5T model to herald transformation. This model is Chief Minister’s Transformations and Initiatives (5T) model which takes feedbacks from the people when they visit any government office about their experience over there which finally decides about any future improvements in the services being provided.

Looking at the present state of rural women, it is far better than their position in the past. Before women were confined within the household activities and were forced to live the rest of their life working and taking care of children who were not less than a life in the dungeon. They had no rights to speak in front of their counterparts and it was a dream being a part of the decision making process. But things have changed with time and with the help of this flagship programme, the sealed voices of the rural women can be heard loud and clear which is clearing making a statement that no more their voices will act as a passive part of the society. Slowly the literacy rates have started their upward ascent as according to the 2001 census female literacy in Odisha was only 50.51% when the programme took off and then in the next census of 2011 it grew to 64.1%.

This flagship programme is moving ahead in Odisha with good speed as it is eradicating the main problem in rural society, the issue of poverty. According to the 2011 census, women constitute 49.5% of the population of Odisha out of which 32.59% remain under the below poverty line. This programme aims in the holistic and capacity building of the existing and the new SHGs to create income-generating economic activities with a helping hand to prosper in the initial stage of the process.

This mindset of the Government of Odisha to empower women is very much accepted and justified by organizations like the World Bank which clearly states that the economic development of a place cannot be improved if the women in that area are not self-sustainable and are not economically developed with independent employment.

The programme not only makes women independent but also solves several other related problems. The success mantra of the programme lies in the structure of the mission; it combines both the consultants and the supporting agencies which yields a good result. And when looked at the achievements of the programme, it lists out several things which were once imagined to be unachievable.

Talking about one of the milestones it has created in the years of its existence is the upward trend in the literacy rate of Odisha which has reached 72.87% according to the census of 2011. Even though it is not a big leap but the upward graph invokes a positive attitude towards anyone who sees it. Then the socioeconomic development has also been monumental progress through this mission which has changed thousands of lives and has brought them from the darkness of the lamp to the brightness of the LEDs.

Now that women have started becoming independent, they do hold a position in the decision-making process and they were given a chance to be a part of the Panchayat itself. This mission has completely evolved the lives of the rural women where they have a voice of their own to question but also to claim their rights and now they see the world through their own eyes and understand the reality of the society.

Even though they have gained confidence in themselves and have started being a part in the public issues but there still lies little problems which can grow in the later future to come.

And not forgetting about the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations which targets to fulfil the 17 goals set by it by 2030 which includes most of the problems in the lives of rural women. And according to the prospectus of the Dept. of Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG), they also provide substantive support and capacity building programme which strengthens the mindset and clarifies the future benefits of this initiative.

The “Mission Shakti” programme is a timely effort in transforming the lives of the women in the rural areas which has a well-structured hierarchical setup for the SHGs but the administration needs to reach more grass-root level to achieve the goal with full fledge, opportunities need to be converted into realities and training programme should be included in the process which would enlighten them with proper aspects of it and would show them the way to do it the right way.

SN Surajbhan is a Bhubaneswar based author and has written English books ‘Dare to Enter’, ‘Voice of Silence’ and ‘Find your Feet’ and has contributed articles in national newspapers and regional vernaculars. He can be mailed at sn.surajbhan@gmail.com


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