Empowering Our Women
From Literacy to Livelihoods


The fundamental purpose of genuine national development is the empowerment of all citizens and the building of their capacity to shape their own lives. This means the availability of options for sustainable livelihoods, the ability to access available opportunities and a genuine participation of all in decision making in matters concerning self, family and society. In India, where 100 high net-worth individuals earn more than the income of half the population put together, this fundamental purpose clearly seems to have been hijacked by other considerations.

The disparity in the abilities to access development opportunities is not a matter of chance. It is the direct outcome of policies deliberately formulated and carefully implemented – by the politically powerful few, who are, or who act as the agents of, the financially rich few. The outcome is the huge and concentrated amassing of the country’s wealth by a small number of individuals; the accumulation of which rests almost entirely on exploitation – of people and nature. The other side of the "development" coin is a large sea of poverty, deprivation, environmental degradation and creation of a large population underequipped to access decent jobs and improved lives

It is therefore not surprising, that half of the country’s population survives at the margins of the economy, providing a pool of cheap labour as and when required but otherwise consigned to an oblivion from which they have no ability or means to escape. And a great portion of these are women in the villages and slums of our nation, perhaps 400 million or more, whose entire lives are spent in the drudgery and deprivation of working non-stop in household chores – all without pay. Were the value of these activities to be reflected in the national accounts, the GNP could well be doubled overnight.

We cannot expect the change we desperately require to come from either the government or businesses. It must come from people themselves, possibly encouraged and enabled by civil society organisations concerned with the viability of India’s future and the lives of our children.

The key to bringing about this change is to set in motion a self-reinforcing process that rapidly brings poor women into a new life of dignity, confidence and self-determination. This means that we have to identify the critical intervention that will set us on the path to the tipping point from where the change in women’s lives becomes self-propelling.

From the perspective of Development Alternatives (DA), the most effective intervention is remunerative jobs for women. For this to happen, the first step is to enable women to read, write and do simple arithmetic. The next steps are to provide her the skills needed to work in a local business or set up her own enterprise, all of which are provided by DA and its sister agency TARA.

We believe that these programmes, which are amenable to support from government, corporations, CSR programmes and high net worth individuals are the most important single intervention that can ensure a sustainable future for our country and make it a better place to live in – for the rich and the poor. q

Ashok Khosla


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