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Kudumbashree: Empowering Women, Transforming Lives in Kerala for 25 Years

Neelambaran A |
With 46 lakh members, Kudumbashree has diversified its presence from poverty eradication to businesses and community empowerment.

The best performing CDS were awarded cash prizes and trophies during the program | Image Courtesy: Kudumbashree

'Kudumbashree', Asia's largest network of women based in Kerala, reached a momentous milestone as it celebrated its silver jubilee on May 17. Its year-long festivities concluded with a spectacular three-day event in Thiruvananthapuram, featuring a massive public gathering. 

The organisation has played a crucial role in several sectors, succeeding in improving the social, economic and political upliftment of women in its 25 years of existence. The group’s success has also been attributed to its diverse membership, which cuts across religious and communal boundaries.

Founded on May 17, 1998, with the goal of eradicating poverty in the state by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by the late E K Nayanar, Kudumbashree has diversified to multiple domains. It covers three core areas of economic development, social development and women empowerment.

Upholding the contributions and achievements of the organisation, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced the founding day of the organisation as ‘Kudumbashree Day’. 

The organisation is planning to revamp and restructure with new goals for the next 25 years and incorporate young women into its fold. It follows a three-tier structure with  3,09,667 neighbourhood groups (NHGs), 19,470 Area Development Societies (ADS) and 1,070 Community Development Societies (CDS). 


Vasanthi, the 76-year-old senior member of Kudumbashree, welcomed the gathering in the public meeting. (Image Courtesy: Kudumbashree)


Kudumbashree, with around 50 lakh members across different groups, has touched the lives of 50% of families in the state. The organisation carries out various tasks, including enhancing the livelihood of women and their families, health, hygiene, social development and political sphere. 

The NHGs, the fundamental group of the Kudumbashree organisational structure, comprise 10-20 women in a neighbourhood, while the NHGs in a ward of a Local Self Government (LSG) form the ADS. The CDS is the registered society of all the ADS in a particular LSG. The NHGs have a president, secretary and three volunteers for income generation, community health-education, and infrastructure. 

The ADS comprises all five elected members from different NHGs attached to it in the general council. A seven-member general body is elected from the general council to oversee its operations. The CDS has its own general body and general council elected from the attached ADS. 

From being implemented in seven wards of the Alappuzha Municipality and the Malappuram district, the Kudumbashree has spread across all the LSGs in the state. 

The objectives of Kudumbashree were expanded to Local Economic Development through Micro Enterprises, Producer Companies, Farm and Marketing Initiatives, Social Development with emphasis on destitute free Kerala, Tribal Development, and Balasabha activities. These also include the BUDS Schools for differently abled and Women Empowerment through gender programs and women-centric programs.

Besides, the organisation plays a crucial role in Special Projects, including the Attappady Project and Kochi Metro of the state government, and centrally sponsored projects like the National Rural Livelihood Mission and Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP). 

From managing non-biodegradable wastes, and ensuring childcare and hygiene in neighbourhoods to running ‘Janakeeya Hotels’, the organisation has left no stone unturned in its work.


The Kudumbashree follows a 3 tier structure, made of NHGs, the primary groups, ADS and CDS, similar to the successful 3 tier panchayat raj system in Kerala (Source: Kudumbashree) (Graphics: R Prakash)

The entrepreneurship programme, which the LDF government started, has resulted in 5,000 new Micro Enterprises being launched by the members of the Kudumbashree. 

“Every Keralite can be proud of the activities and achievements of the Kudumbashree. This is the model Kerala has provided to the country and the world to follow,” CM Pinarayi Vijayan said while inaugurating the valedictory ceremony.


Some of the important achievements of the Kudumbashree in diverse fields. (Source: Date Published by Kudumbashree) (Graphics: R Prakash)

The government has invited the organisation to play a pivotal role in its immediate goal of eradicating extreme poverty, which stands at 0.71% while the national average is 25%.

“The LDF government aims to bring 64,006 families out of extreme poverty before November 1, 2025, for which the Kudumbashree needs to play an active role. Meanwhile, the government will extend all possible support to the organisation for it to achieve the new goals,” Pinarayi Vijayan said.


Kozhikode Corporation won the best performing urban CDS on health (Image Courtesy: Kudumbashree)

Lauding different activities of the organisation, the chief minister also officially announced the observation of May 17 every year as ‘Kudumbashree Day’. It got a massive positive reception from the members of the organisations. 


As part of the three-day program, which began on May 15, seven panel discussions were held with all-women panellists. The other events included cultural programs, and street plays by Kudumbashree members.


Aruna Roy, former civil servant and social activist participated virtually on the panel discussion on ‘Climate Challenge: Role of Women Collective as Community Institutions’  (Image Courtesy: Kudumbashree)

The topics of panel discussions included the following: i) Art as a medium of self-expression and social change, ii) Women Entrepreneurs as Catalysts for Social Change, iii) Combating Crime and Violence, iv) Climate Challenge, v) Envisioning Life in its Fullest: Beyond the Confines of Careers, vi) Enabling Women's Action: Social Perspective and Legal Framework and vii) Pathways Towards and Inclusive Society: Prospects and Dilemmas of Women’s Agency.


Panel discussion on ‘Envisioning Life in its Fullest: Beyond the Confines of Careers’ (Image Courtesy: Kudumbashree)

Bhavana, Program Manager at Kudumbashree, while speaking to NewsClick, said, “We ensured the panellists were all women and with adequate representation for the members of the organisation in all seven discussions. We focussed on contemporary issues and challenges and possible solutions for the women's collective”.

“Generally, Kudumbashree workers are known as hotel operators or waste collectors to some sections of the population. But they have achieved more in reality, and hence we wanted to make them present in the panels to express their views and get more exposure from the experts,” Bhavana added. 

The members of Kudumbashree are involved in the operations of the Kochi Metro, and ticketing and housekeeping of the Kochi Water Metro launched recently. The number of entrepreneurs in the organisation has increased to 1.87 lakhs, exposing the diversity achieved in recent years.

The organisation also operates Organic Plant Nurseries, Bio Pharmacy, Agri-Nutri Gardens, e-Seva Kendras, Urban Vegetable Kiosks and Rural Area Markets, to name a few. Few CDSs operate IT units and export meat and egg. 


Another factor attributed to the success of the Kudumbashree was the social responsibility and harmony exhibited by the members of the organisation. The organisation has slowly moved from poverty eradication to improving the income of the members and diversified operations. 

“The social, economic and political status of women in Kerala shall be defined before Kudumbashree and after Kudumbahree. Such is the impact created by the organisation in their lives,” said M B Rajesh, the minister for Local Self Governance Department (LSGD).

The auxiliary groups and Balasabhas were inaugurated to incorporate young age women and children into the organisation's fold to explore other avenues of social responsibility. 

“Those who questioned the capacity of women to achieve things are now watching their expertise. Now, we are planning to expand the organisation for its betterment in the next 25 years. Young women in the age group of 18-40 are enthusiastically joining the auxiliary groups,” he said.  

CM Pinarayi Vijayan credited the secular character of the state being one of the reasons for the massive success of the organisation. “People from different religions and castes are part of Kudumbashree. Being a secular state has helped us march towards success which should continue in the coming years and defeat the fake propaganda against the state,” he said in his address.

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