The Kudumbashree Story

Women Empowerment

Gender Self Learning Programme (GSLP)

Gender self-learning programme (GSLP), initiated 2007, is a participatory education programme through which women in Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) address gender and its manifestations in their lived experiences. The emphasis is on the process, which helps the women develop a collective consciousness on gender and a deep understanding of its pervasive expressions.

“..One cannot help seeing that below-poverty-line women have been released not into the public, but into a highly 'governmentalised' space bounded on four sides by the Panchayat, the Kudumbashree Mission, the community, and the political parties. Indeed, this even stands in the way of the avowed purpose of the Kudumbashree Mission: to transform underprivileged women into full-fledged and responsible economic agents”

J. Devika, 2007

GSLP is a massive State-wide programme, arguably the first of its kind in terms of process intensity and scale. By the middle of 2015, 

  • A total of 86307 women were trained as reresource persons for a cascading training programme till NHG level
  • In all, 433,313 women underwent training including resource persons and 347,006 support team members
  • The programme is expected to cover 35 lakh women in the State

Four thematic areas were selected for the programme.

  • Women and work
  • Women and health
  • Women and mobility
  • Women and entertainment


Gender Self-Learning Programme - Components

  • Selection of Resource Persons and training
  • Module preparation
  • Brochure
  • Module based training for Resource Persons
  • Gender learning at NHG level
  • Gender Resource Centre

Given the nature of Kudumbashree as a government programme with poverty eradication as its objective, placing an initiative like GSLP was not easy. Therefore, it was important to select the right entry point and a theme which was likely to be universally acceptable.

MGNREGA was a natural choice; as a programme in which Kudumbashree Mission and the community networkare involved in an engaging way, but also as a programme which has a buy in across the State’s political spectrum.

Involvement of Kudumbashree in the implementation of MGNREGS from mobilising women through job card registration, site facilitation, and labour budgeting to social audit had led to institutionalisation of women labour collectives and working beyond 100 days. This also made MGNREGS the natural choice to work around for a gender education programme.

When MGNREGS was selected as the entry point; the theme naturally was ‘women and work’.

Work on developing the first module on ‘women and work’ started in 2008. Kudumbashree selected four Gram Panchayats and a Municipality for developing the module through participatory exercises:

  • Gram Panchayats: Nedumangad, Kanjikkuzhi, Kanhangad, and Kodakara
  • Municipality: Aluva

Resource persons were identified and training was conducted for them. Modules for the learning programme were prepared through content development workshops, consolidation workshop, and content finalisation workshop. The content development process used a network of resource persons through participatory exercises. Each module contained seven to eight real life stories.

The modules after finalisation were introduced in NHGs and women were encouraged to raise questions on gender issues relating to work, health, mobility, power, and power structures.

Preparation of Module for Scaling up

Module preparation for scaling up followed a similar process; however, the workshop was organised at the State level. District level resource persons and gender resource persons attended the workshop. The module consisted of different types of contents.

  • Text explaining concepts
  • Real life stories around the theme ‘women and work’
  • Points for discussions in workshops (indicative list)
  • Qualitative questions (for facilitating discussions)

Based on the ideas generated at the workshop, a sub-module was added on ‘women and labour laws’.

Separate module was developed for urban areas; drawing from the urban labour context.

The first State level module had eight chapters.

  • Employment rights
  • Equal wages for equal work
  • Employment opportunities
  • Exploitation in workplaces
  • Practical needs in workplaces
  • Strategic need of obtaining social space
  • Changing work culture
  • Women and MGNREGS

The Process

Gender consultants, resource persons, and support teams joined together to roll out the Gender Self-Learning Programme at various levels in each district. Kudumbashree inducted Gender Consultants to its district staff support structure in 2009 to coordinate GSLP.

The consultants were assigned the following tasks.

  • Coordinating community gender resource network
  • Implementation of gender learning processes
  • Reporting
  • Ideation on new implementation strategies.

In 2010, more layers were added to the district layer of resource persons at Panchayat, Ward and NHG levels for scaling up.

The network of resource persons was formed from among the members of the three-tier structure of the Kudumbashree community organisation:

  • Two or three members from each NHG were to be ADS level Resource Persons; NHGs were asked to nominate Resource Persons from among the members of the social development sub-committee
  • Two members from each ADS were nominated as CDS level Resource Persons
  • One member from each CDS was nominated as district level Resource Person

Support teams were formed from the community network.

  • Two or three members of each NHG constituted the ADS level support team
  • Two representatives of each ADS and two members of each ADS committee formed the CDS level team
  • Two women and two gender resource persons form each CDS constituted the district level support team.

The cascading training method adopted started with the State level workshop and training and continued through the district level workshops, then to the Panchayat (CDS) level and further down to the NHGs.

GSLP on 'women and work' started at the NHG level in 2010:

  • Modules were read out in NHGs with the support of Resource Persons
  • Discussions were held; checklists were used for facilitating discussions
  • Responses to specific questions in the qualitative questionnaire were recorded

The responses were collated at ADS level, and further at CDS level. Then these were collated at the district and eventually at the State level.

Several interesting events and support programmes marked the implementation of the first module of GSLP:

  • Training on ‘women and law’ at local body level
  • Women assemblies were organised
  • Processions were held
  • Cultural programmes were conducted
  • Special gatherings of tribal people were held

Training on ‘women and law’ was organised in collaboration with Kerala Legal Services Authority (KELSA). Kudumbashree and KELSA jointly published a book on ‘women and law’. The book was made available to Gender Resource Persons across districts.

Women assembly (Women Sabha) as an idea emerged from the GSLP workshops. Women assemblies were held at every district on the theme ‘women and work’:

  • Assemblies had presentations on problems and challenges that women faced in different work domains
  • Elected representatives including MLAs attended the district level assemblies
  • District level officials attended

With elected representatives and district level officials engaging with the assembly and initiating steps to address the problems and issues raised, the district level assemblies reached levels that were not initially anticipated.

The enthusiasm generated led to the conduct of women assemblies at the local body level too in many places.

The second module focusing women and work related health issues was developed through a decentralised process unlike the module on women and work. The module preparation was carried out through a multi-level process.

  • One-day workshops of district level resource persons on ‘women and health’
    • Health experts attended these workshops
  • Survey to identify health issues among women labourers
    • Resource persons conducted the surveys
  • Health resource mapping
    • This was an attempt to map the institutions and facilities in health sector as well as their roles and responses

By this time, Sthreesakthi web portal was created; discussions on health issues started appearing on this forum as well.

State Mission provided a Matrix to all districts, for facilitating the preparation of modules for the districts.

  • All 14 districts prepared their respective modules
  • All the 14 modules were uploaded on Sthreesakthi web portal
  • Modules were modified based on comments and feedback

Lab Panchayats: One Panchayat from each district was selected as ‘Lab Panchayat’. The district modules were finalised by presenting them at the Lab Panchayats and incorporating changes based on the feedback. The finalised modules were printed subsequent to this process.


The Third Module: Women and Mobility

The theme for the third module ‘Women and Mobility’ was announced on Sthreesakthi web portal and responses and comments invited. The module generated a lot of interest among women within the Kudumbashree network and outside. The extent of responses to the theme was quite impressive.

The theme ‘women and mobility’ had four sub-themes:

  • Society and mobility
  • Mobility and atrocities against women
  • Mobility and opportunities
  • Mobility and rights

Work on the first sub-theme was initiated in 2013 and the second in 2015.

Society and mobility, the first sub-theme, was developed through fourteen topics. Each covered the influence of a particular factor, subject, or entity on mobility of women.

1. Education

2. Religion

3. Information

4. Attitude

5. Media and communication

6. Infrastructure

7. Public sphere

8. Personality

9. Self and physique

10. Social structure

11. Social institutions

12. Power relations

13. Labour participation

14. Culture

Each district was allotted one topic for module preparation. When the first drafts were ready they were circulated to all the other districts and were also uploaded on Sthreesakthi web portal. The draft modules were improved incorporating feedback.

A master module covering all the sub-topics was prepared and circulated to NHGs for NHG level discussions and learning. NHGs discussed sub-topics relating them to their own context and experiences; typically one sub-topic was discussed per meeting. Questions were asked and formats were filled. The compiled information was uploaded on the portal.

The discussion process on ‘Society and Mobility’ led to a few initiatives that could be considered the offshoots of GSLP.

  • Family get together of NHGs in Ernakulam district
  • Sports competitions from ADS to district levels in Thrissur, Ernakulam, and Pathanamthitta districts
  • A road side food stall operating from 6 pm till 1 am, that too opposite to a retail outlet for Indian-made foreign liquor (the location not known for women-friendliness, especially in the night time)

Sreesakthi Portal

Sreesakthi portal as an idea that emerged from a particular context.

  • There was a suggestion for computer training of Kudumbashree women; the proposal was based on the rationale of helping women develop skills in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
  • Kudumbashree had collaborated with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) for the development of a Management Information System (MIS); this was supported by the Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India.
  • GSLP was going on full-fledged across the State; the experiences and ideas that were thrown up by the process pointed to the need for an effective forum for communication.

The MIS idea was stretched to add a web portal; the portal was named Sreesakthi in the context of GSLP. In addition, a computer training programme was also formulated for women.

Five to ten women from each district were trained as master trainers for the web portal; these women in turn trained women at the CDS level. Basic computer training was given to women through Akshaya Centres, the multi-purpose IT kiosks promoted by the State government, before their training in web portal by master trainers.

Sthreesakthi portal had certain features that made it useful for GSLP:

  • Bilingual user interface (Malayalam and English)
  • Public and private pages
  • Separate user levels for CDSs, Districts, and State
  • Discussion forum on GSLP – module development and transactions
  • Queries

Through a State-wide training programme launched by Kudumbashree Mission, five members from each CDS were given computer training. 


Pusthakayathra, a Journey of Books

Kudumbashree Mission decided to publish a compendium of life stories of its members as a commemorative volume for its fourteenth anniversary.

As part of the exercise, women wrote their stories, read them out in NHG meetings, and discussed. It was an unprecedented event that caught the fancy of numerous women. It was the first time that these women were asked to write their life stories.

From the NHGs, a set of stories selected by each NHG from among those presented at the meetings, was sent to ADS for further reading and discussions. Editorial boards were constituted at the CDS level to edit the stories selected by the ADS. The editorial boards edited and compiled the selected stories into books.

A book from every CDS was the objective; in all 1048 books were published.

Following the compilation of the stories, Pusthakayathra, a journey of books was initiated.

There were two streams for the journey of books. One started from Hosankady, a border village in Kasaragod, the northern-most district of Kerala; the other started from Udiyankulangara near Parassala in Thiruvananthapuram, the southern-most district.

Both the streams reached Ernakulam on the 14th anniversary day and the programme culminated with a well-attended function.

Two theatre teams accompanied the two streams from either ends staging a play that presented Kudumbashree experiences through the narrative of a woman. Two groups comprising 26 members between them performed at 120 locations over 22 days.

The famous theatre group ‘Niriksha’ trained the two theatre groups that accompanied the two streams of the journey of books.

The play, while depicting the Kudumbashree story, did not indulge in proclamation of the Mission’s achievements as typically seen in government programmes.

Instead, the play used a narrative based on the lived experiences of a woman to present issues relating to gender, work, and law.

The theatre groups embarked on their journeys with Pusthakayathra on 9th and 10th of September 2012.

Thousands of women came up with books and held meetings at Assembly Constituency level. These meetings were held over a period of two weeks.

These series of events marked one of the largest women's mobilisation programmes around a theme in the State's recent history. Each of the Assembly Constituencies for instance, had meetings of 5,000 to 10,000 women.

Some of the high profile critics and self-declared opponents of Kudumbashree attended the anniversary meeting at Ernakulam.