Choose To Challenge – The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is aptly conceived and is a befitting thought for today’s society. At this critical juncture in human history, when the world is confronting one of its greatest health challenges, the role of women can never be sidelined or given a secondary tag. This year’s theme calls for the women to choose the challenge to break the barriers and stereotypes and lead from the front in bringing in the change as change is inevitable and moves the society forward.
On this year’s International Women’s Day, as the theme says Choose To Challenge, we look into the challenges that have been faced by the women of today in Odisha and the change they have brought with the help of the government. Today, change is an opportunity which needs to be utilized with a vision and forceful action under a leadership that inspires all.
Odisha under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been leading the change and empowering the women like never before in the history. Be it economic independence of political participation, women in Odisha are today in the forefront in challenging the traditional stereotypes and taking up opportunities. From paddy procurement in mandis to managing midday meals in schools, women in Odisha are contributing a significant part in the state’s rural economy. They are today handling works worth more than Rs 4000 Crore in various spheres. Due to the progress in credit disbursement to the priority sector, the state sponsorship through budgetary provisions for these sectors have been substantially increased in the last few years. The annual credit target for SHGs was Rs 3240 Crore last year but by January, the SHGs had already received credits over Rs 3745 Crore – an example of the success story.
Today, as a mark of respect to women in their quest for self reliance and further their empowerment, Odisha government has taken the decision to establish a separate Mission Shakti Department which will look into the empowerment of more than eighty lakh women Self Help Group members. And the Department is going to be headed by one of its resourceful officers Sujata R. Kartikeyan, Commissioner-cum-Director, Mission Shakti who has been successfully steering the department for the last few years. Having the distinction of being the first woman Odia IAS Officer in Odisha, she is surely going to strengthen the Self Help Group Movement to the next level.
Women are the backbone of the family, architects of the society and bedrock of the nation. No household, no society, no state, no country has ever progressed without empowering its women. Women empowerment can be achieved only when women are given the right opportunity or encouraged for their participation in all areas and sectors and have a voice in the decision-making process.
When it comes to women empowerment, unarguably Odisha’s longest serving Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is a true champion. His path-breaking initiatives such as 50 per cent reservation for women in Panchyati Raj institutions, Resolution seeking 33 per cent reservation in legislative assemblies and Parliament, Mission Shakti, Mamata Yojana, girls’ education, hostels for tribal girls, provision of Rs. 7 lakh health insurance for women under Biju Swastya Kalyan Yojana, and land rights for women have gone a long way in empowering women in Odisha.
What the world is soliciting for women today has already been initiated by Odisha under the able leadership of Naveen. Today, women in Odisha are leading the change by taking the center stage in transformation. They have chosen the challenge and breaking the stereotypes. The changing characteristics of Indian society with a mix of rural and urban order depends much on the women folk. In each and every sphere, be it economy, education, health or welfare, women are at the center and deserve the best of the encouragement so that there is all round development. State sponsorship to various encouragement programs of women plays an important role in women empowerment.
In India, there are a few programs which deserve to be discussed and debated for their contribution to women empowerment and thereby social change. One such initiative is the flagship program of the Government of Odisha, Mission Shakti that has become a revolution in the state. Mission Shakti has shown the world that successful women empowerment has the trickle down impact on the economy, livelihood, social development, healthcare and education of the state. The state has the distinction of having more than 80 lakh Self Help Group (SHG) members sponsored by Mission Shakti – the nodal agency of the Government of Odisha. From a humble beginning in the year 2001, Mission Shakti today has become a force to be reckoned with. After nearly two decades, the humble beginning has become a revolution today and brought under its ambit more than 7 million women. This flagship programme of the government of Odisha for women empowerment has successfully achieved its goal of empowering the women of the state. Mission Shakti, with its multi-pronged approach to the strategies for making women self-sufficient has been able to improve the economic condition of lakhs of families and thereby the state’s economy also.
During election times, most of the political parties in their manifestos repeatedly speak about women empowerment, but somewhere when it comes to walking the talk, there is a deafening silence. But, for Odisha Chief Minister and his party Biju Janata Dal are always true to their words and sincerely fulfill what they have promised for women empowerment and gender responsive governance in the State, which has been well acknowledged by the United Nations. Naveen kept his promise of giving tickets to 33 percent women in Parliamentary elections and five of them won the elections. Naveen’s decision to field Pramila Bisoyi from Aska is seen as the best instance of women empowerment. And true to his decision, Pramila has not only won the elections, but people’s hearts. Chandrani Murmu became the Country’s youngest Parliamentarian.
The day is not so far when the women of Odisha will be in the second level and leading the way in women empowerment in India. According to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, be it financial independence or representing the people in Parliament, empowering women has been the cornerstone of the development initiatives. Odisha will continue to work towards championing them in every field and create spaces for their leadership towards progress.
Women in Odisha, going hand in hand with zeitgeist, have carved with laser-like precision their place in the empowerment landscape. They are uncompromising and innovative. Driven by a radical curiosity and the knowledge , their wild and vast imagination can disrupt the status quo. They are able to fight tooth and nail to make sure that no one tames their vision. They are poised to challenge the danger of a single story. They are nothing less than magical in blazing a trail. They are a light that shine on the opportunities and potential for the future.