The Government has been attempting to empower women through effective legislation and has formulated several schemes to endow them with the much-needed social and economic empowerment.
Swayamsiddha is one such scheme for empowering the Indian women both socially and economically to enable them live with dignity and self-reliance. The scheme lays stress on access to micro-credit and envisages block and panchayat-level participation among women, cutting across all regional, economic and social groups.
“Self-help” is the magic word here. The programme urges women to help themselves, literally. And in order to attain the goal, it sets in place a series of self-help groups and mechanisms designed to streamline and distribute the benefits of awareness and advocacy among women of all social strata and through diverse regions and states. February was observed as the month for the “Economic Empowerment of Women”. This was when the Integrated Women’s Empowerment Programme (IWEP) or “Swayamsiddha” was also launched and a national-level seminar on property rights for women was organised during this phase. The programme assumes significance in the light of the fact that in recent years the empowerment of women has been recognised as the central issue in determining their status.
The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women but also empowers the State to adopt measures against discrimination to them in any manner.
Swayamsiddha, as the name itself suggests, is aimed at making women self-reliant and giving them enough confidence to fend for themselves. Swayamsiddha will recast the Indira Mahila Yojana (IMY).
The programme lays stress on enabling women to have a full understanding of social, economic and political issues. It will not only educate women on their status, rights and privileges but also generate awareness about women’s health, nutrition, education, sanitation and hygiene.
The programme wiill bring together groups of people with common goals and objectives. IWEP has a vision to develop empowered women who will be bold enough to demand their rights from family, community and government and those who have increased access and control over material, social and political resources.
It envisages enhanced awareness and improved skills for women with an accent on economic self-reliance. One of the principal aims of the IWEP is to improve women’s access to micro-credit and strengthening the savings habit among rural women. This will enable them to have control over their economic resources.
The programme aims at involving women in local-level planning and envisages the convergence of services of the Department of Women and Child Development and other departments. The programme will be extended over a period of four to five years at a cost of Rs. 116.30 crore. To ensure a smooth functioning of the programme, a project implementation cell will be set up having adequate expertise and flexibility.
- Aimed at encouraging thrift among women through small savings, the scheme will, in effect, merge the Mahila Samriddhi Yojana (MSY) and the Indira Mahila Yojana (IMY).
- IWEP will have the distinctive feature of having the association of government and panchayat officials/office-bearers as participants/facilitators. It will enlist the support of both government departments/agencies and NGOs and district and intermediary-level panchayat institutions.
- IWEP will thus create an organisational base for women to come together, to analyse and fulfil their needs through existing programmes of the State and Central governments and to access institutional credit. The programme will facilitate them access to various schemes from a single window.
- The State Governments will identify nodal departments for implementing IWEP which will in turn identify block-level implementing agencies called Project Implementation Agencies (PIAs).
- Women need not run from pillar to post in search of information and aid as the scheme will ensure easy and instant redressal of problems. A subsidy-free approach to women’s empowerment will be inculcated.
- Each self-help group will have about 15-20 members with one leader or key person. Homogeneous groups of women belonging to the same socio-eocnomic status will be formed, networking self-help groups (SHGs) with panchayat institutions and government functionaries.
- Community-orientation, innovative interventions and creation of community assets will all form a vital part of the activities of the PIAs or the SHGs. These will in turn strengthen the process of group formation, mobilisation and stabilisation.
IWEP holds special significance in that it has been started during the Empowerment Year for Women and at a time when gender and women perspectives are being mainstreamed in all developmental processes. The Government has decided to establish policies, programmes and systems to ensure the mainstreaming of the gender perspective in the process of development. Wherever there are gaps in policies and programmes, women- specific interventions will be undertaken to bridge these. Coordinating and monitoring mechanisms will also be devised to assess the progress of such mainstreaming mechanisms from time to time. This also extends to the various programmes and schemes the Government has formulated for the welfare and empowerment of women. IWEP is also being constantly monitored and evolved and interventions being created based on feedback from various blocks and districts. The self-help groups will particularly reach out to destitute women, particularly those in extreme poverty, disadvantaged women, disabled widows, elderly women, single women in difficult circumstances and women in conflict situations.