Ayalkootam, or the Neighborhood Groups that form the basic unit of a three-tiered women’s community network in Kerala, India, allow participants to deliberate on the activities of the government's participatory “poverty eradication and women empowerment” Kudumbashree Mission.
Problems and Purpose
Kudumbashree (meaning “prosperity of the family” in the local Malayalam language) is the ongoing participatory “poverty eradication and women empowerment” mission started by the Kerala Government in 1998. The mission has created a three-tiered community network of women which function in conjunction with the local self-government institutions to implement government initiatives for (i) “economic empowerment” such as micro-finance, micro-enterprises, collective farming, livestock farming, market development and so on; (ii) “social empowerment” such as “destitute identification and rehabilitation,” “rehabilitation of mentally challenged persons” and “children’s programmes”; and (iii) “women empowerment” consisting of “gender self-learning programme” and “programmes for elimination of violence against women.”
The first and the lowest, but the basic, tier of this network is Neighbourhood Groups (or Ayalkootam in Malayalam) consisting of ten to twenty women. The second level consisting of two or more Neighbourhood Groups is Area Development Societies. All Area Development Societies in an area are affiliated to the local self-government level Community Development Society.
Origins and Development
Participant Recruitment and Selection
How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making
All adult women are eligible for membership to the Neighbourhood Groups – the basic units of Kudumbashree’s community network – but membership is limited to a “one family, one member” rule. However, any women irrespective of this rule can participate in the discussion and activities of the Kudumbashree.
The day and time of the weekly meetings of the Neighbourhood Groups are decided by consensus on the first day of the formation of a Neighbourhood Group. All members are expected to regularly attend the weekly meetings. The quorum is set at 75 percent.
The major and most popular activity of the Neighbourhood Groups is thrift and microcredit. All members must deposit a minimum amount as thrift. This minimum is the weekly savings that the poorest member of the group can afford. After three months of weekly meetings and savings, the group can lend money to the members with interest. Members put forward requests for loans in weekly meetings and loans are granted on the basis of priority.
The decisions on who gets the priority on loans and the interest rates are made either by consensus or voting after deliberations among the members. After discussion, members can also decide on the other activities they want to undertake as a group. This can include collective framing on fallow land and micro-enterprises (such as food products, apparels, toiletries, handicrafts, café, and catering services).
Neighborhood Group meetings are also spaces to discuss local issues that need to be raised in the Gram or Ward Sabha meetings of the local self-government. The Neighborhood Groups are supposed to work with the local self-government bodies in the planning and implementation of development needs of the locality. Through deliberation, Neighborhood Groups are encouraged to create “micro-plans” which the local self-governing institutions should take into consideration in formulating their own plans through wider public discussion.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Currently there are around comprising 291,507 Neighborhood Groups operating in Kerala as part of the mission and, as of May 2019, they have collected around 47.52 billion Rupees (634.29 million USD) as thrift and there are around 2600 small-scale enterprises managed by Kudumbashree members (http://www.kudumbashree.org/pages/518).