Empowerment of women in West Bengal

Empowerment of women in West Bengal

March 18, 2014

One of the factors a country's economy depends on is human capital. If you don't provide women with adequate access to healthcare, education and employment, you lose at least half of your potential. So, gender equality and women's empowerment bring huge economic benefits.

~ Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile and former Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

In India, women are often denied their rights in society. They are denied the right to education, and are taught to be always subservient to men – to serve a father first, then a husband, and later, children and grandchildren. This negative approach is still widely prevalent, especially in rural India. To alleviate the condition of women, both adults and children, a lot of schemes are run by the government – be it the central government or the state governments.

The government of West Bengal runs a number of schemes for the development of women. These schemes relate to education and to the economic rehabilitation of women, and also to women with physical disabilities.

One of the most ambitious schemes for women in India was recently started by the government of West Bengal. It is called Kanyashree Prakalpa or Kanyashree Scheme, and is aimed at enabling education of the girl child and thus preventing child marriage.

Sishu Shiksha Kendra students in a classroom

Kanyashree Prakalpa/ Kanyashree Scheme

According to the District Level Health Survey – 3, 2007-08, the state ranks a high fifth when it comes to the prevalence of child marriage. The districts of Murshidabad, Malda, Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura, South Dinajpur, South 24 Parganas, Nadia and Cooch Behar see the highest incidences of child marriage in the state.

Child marriage leads to girls dropping out of school, which further limit their scope of future development. It also results in girls becoming mothers at an age when they are not out of childhood themselves. Child marriage is one of the lures used by human exploitation rackets to entice poor parents to part with young girls   

In view of these issues, the Department of Women Development and Social Welfare of the state formulated the Kanyashree Scheme – a conditional cash transfer scheme with the aim of improving the status and well-being of the girl child in West Bengal by incentivising schooling of all teenage girls and delaying their marriages until 18, the legal age of marriage.

The scheme is applicable to all girls between the ages of 13 and 18 studying in classes between VIII and XII in a government-recognised school or madrasah or vocational/technical training centre, and whose family income is less than Rs 1.2 lakh per annum (this condition is waived if both the parents are dead or if the girl is physically challenged). Such girls would receive an annual scholarship of Rs 500, and a one-time grant of Rs 25,000 after completing the 18th year in an institution of higher education (they must apply after they turn 18 and before they turn 19).

This government of West Bengal-sponsored scheme will be implemented in all districts of the state.

The logo of Kanyashree Scheme, designed by Mamata Banerjee

Kanyashree Mela

Sukanya Scheme

Another scheme for women that the state government has embarked on is Sukanya Scheme. It is a project to train schoolgirls studying in and above Class VIII in the martial arts which will help them, among other things, to defend themselves in the face of any attack

In general, martial arts, especially if started from a young age, foster self-discipline, boost socialisation skills, encourage physical activity, teach to set and achieve goals, increase self-esteem, instill a sense of respect for others, encourage non-violent conflict resolution, improve listening skills, develop teamwork skills, and have an all-around good influence on a child as she/he develops into an adult.

Any martial art, which is a form of unarmed combat, enhances social empowerment to a large extent.

In May 2013, Siliguri police organised martial arts training for girls to combat violence against women

Ensuring empowerment
  • The state government has set up State Resource Centre for Women (SRCW) to ensure the socio-political empowerment of women in West Bengal; work is in progress.
  • The state has decided to start ‘gender budgeting’ to create a comprehensive list of women-oriented jobs in various government departments and of schemes for women to ensure that such schemes reach their beneficiaries.

The state government is ensuring socio-political development of women

Central schemes implemented by the government of West Bengal

Some of the central government-sponsored schemes especially targeted towards women, which are implemented by the government of West Bengal, are:

Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG) – Sabla: Provides health check-up, nutrition and health education, counseling/guidance on family welfare and childcare, vocational training under National Skill Development programme (NSDP), life skill education, accessing public services, etc.

Swabalamban: Trains poor and needy women of urban slums and rural areas from weaker sections like SCs, STs, etc., preferably in non-traditional areas, to ensure their employment.

Support to Training and Employment Program for Women (STEP): Increases self-reliance and autonomy of women by enhancing their productivity through training for skill upgradation, to enable them to take up employment-cum-income generation programmes. It also provides support services.

Swayamsidha: Develops empowered women who will demand their rights from family, community and government, have increased access to, and control over, material, social and political resources, have enhanced awareness and improved skills, and be able to raise issues of common concern through mobilisation and networking.

The logo of Swayamsidha Scheme

Swadhar: Addresses the specific vulnerability of each of group of women in difficult circumstances through a home-based holistic and integrated approach. It targets widows deserted by their families, women prisoners released from jails and without family support, women survivors of natural disasters, rescued trafficked women/girls, women victims of terrorist attacks, mentally challenged women and women with HIV/AIDS.

Besides these, schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) target children in general.

Cheques being awarded to deserving students on the occasion of National Girl Child Day 2013

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