The Kudumbashree Story

Community Network

Kudumbashree Community Network

Kudumbashree is essentially a community network that covers the entire State of Kerala. It consist of a three tier structure with Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) as primary level units, Area Development Societies (ADS) at the ward level, and Community Development Societies (CDS) at the local government level. It is arguably one of the largest women’s networks in the world. While the community network is formed around the central themes of poverty eradication and women empowerment, its main features include democratic leadership, and support structures formed from the ‘Kudumbashree family’.

Common Bylaws for Kudumbashree CDS

Kudumbashree Mission introduced a set of common bylaws for Community Development Societies (CDS) in 2008. Introduction of common bylaws marked certain fundamental changes in the nature of the Kudumbashree. Till then CDSs in different places had different bylaws, therefore the 2008 bylaws brought in a common structure and operational rules for the community structure. The imperative for introducing new bylaws was triggered by a dispute on the relationship between an urban local government and Kudumbashree CDS. The dispute brought out several ambiguities that existed in the actual relationship between the local governments and CDS. CDS had also been facing bureaucratic hurdles caused by some of the existing norms; for instance, the CDS committee had only nine members from the community network while there were 15 nominated members. 

The new bylaws introduced in 2008, which came up through an elaborate process of stakeholder consultations at various levels, and a scrutiny by the respective government departments which took eight months' time, had the following highlights. 

  • The bylaws clearly defined the relationship between Kudumbashree community network and local governments; in defining it, the spirit of the bylaws maintained the spirit of the relationship as conceived by the three member Task Force that recommended the setting up of Kudumbashree.
  • The bylaws defined the the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers and the office bearers. This helped in clarifying the nature and status of ADS, which till then had been a notional body. The bylaws made it a functional forum mostly co-terminus with wards of local governments. Bylaws also provided for representation of all ADSs in the corresponding CDS.
  • Bylaws explicitly stated the norms of representation of SC/ST members and BPL families in the community structure.
  • Tenure for elected bodies was standardised as three years; office bearers were allowed to hold positions only for two consecutive terms.
  • Stopped the nomination system to the CDS and introduced open elections where all the members sat together and elected their committee and office bearers. 
  • Specified election norms in such a way that nobody outside the pool of representatives could involve in the election process; provision was made for appointing Returning Officers for CDS elections. 
  • Bylaws also put forward Evaluation Committees at the CDS level for ensuring coordination between local governments and CDS. 

There were objections from several quarters to the new bylaws. However, Kudumbashree Mission, through an elaborate and transparent process ensured its completion; the government approved it subsequently without major changes.