No households, no society, no state, no country has ever moved forward without empowering its women. When Naveen Patnaik became the Chief Minister of Odisha in 2000, at that time the State was in shambles, completely devastated by natural disaster and years of misrules. A year later, he rolled out Mission Shakti with the objective of improving the economic and social status of women through the development of entrepreneurship, supply of credit and acquisition of skill, the development program quite akin to Mahila Mandala Vikash Samabaya Nigam that his father and stalwart Biju Patnaik had launched in 1991 for women empowerment.
The silent revolution that Naveen started in 2001 has gradually transformed into a social movement with 70 lakh women, six lakh groups, Rs 5,000 crore savings and 2,000 crore annual bank exposure. Mission Shakti is now a way of life for millions of women, shaping their thought, outlook, culture and economic life. There is no habitation in State without a Mission Shakti Group. Almost every second household has a member in it.
It is really heartening to note that Mission Shakti has brought a paradigm shift in societal attitude towards women and recognized their entrepreneurial skills for improving various socio-economic indicators like IMR, MMR and female literacy. It has placed rural women in a better position to overcome the negative social pressures and gender biases operating against them and united them under group identity and activity.
With a border vision, the Odisha Government has promoted women’s self-help groups (WSHGs) by providing them much-needed credit and market linkages to create gainful economic activities for women. Initially the government had the set the target to organize two lakhs WSHGs covering all revenue villages of the State. The target was achieved in 2008. Women at large have displayed great strengthen in the success of the Mission due to their positive contribution to the group dynamics and their natural inclination for self-reliance.
At present there are more than six lakh WSHGs engaged in various economic activities. The program has produced many successfully women entrepreneurs at the grassroots level. One of them is Jayanti Ekka. Entire Odisha knows this name now. The tribal lady from Balisankara of Sundergarh, a grass root Entrepreneur with a childhood disability was the star of the Make in Odisha Conclave where the who’s who of the country were present. The confidence and determination with which she spoke inspired all of Odisha. She described her struggle and success story truly representing the empowerment of Mission Shakti groups. The WSHG ‘Kalayani’ that she started way back in 2001 is a major success. It is the sign of new Odisha, an Odisha where women empowerment is the utmost priority in all development works of the government.
After achieving the primary objective of women empowerment, Mission Shakti now aims at making its members digitally empowered. The digital empowerment will further accelerate the socio-political and economic empowerment of women and bring them close to the knowledge economy.
Digital technology has revolutionized the world as never before. Rapid transofmations have taken place in the global scenario. The contribution of information and communication technology has been significant in terms of income and earnings, growth and employment generation.
It is also true that the current internet usage by women in Odisha is significantly low compared to men, especially in rural areas. It deprives a considerable number of women from accessing online services including communication and information vital for their all-round development.
It is in this context, the Odisha Government’s decision to provide free smartphones to six lakh women self-help groups (WSHGs) is a remarkable step towards digital empowerment of women under Mission Shakti.
Meanwhile, Naveen Patnaik has introduced a resolution in the state legislative assembly proposing 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies.
With multiple empowerments, the State Government aims to set setting in motion the wheels of social sustainability.