It is widely accepted that women’s empowerment helps in the achievement of critical development goals. If there are a greater number of women in politics, there is a concomitant increase in the level of attention given to gender-specific policy and planning in the country. However, the number of women taking leadership roles in India is rather small compared to the global average. Let us look at Odisha’s story. Odisha may be seen as one of the underdeveloped States in the country and a laggard in terms of some human development indicators. However, other States could take a cue from the Odisha government’s model for women’s empowerment – 50% reservation in Panchayats and 33% in MLA and MP’s by state’s ruling party.

Besides empowering women politically, the state government has been organising women into self-help groups in order to empower them economically ever since the party assumed power two decades ago. As of now, Odisha has six lakh self-help groups with seven million women under its flagship ‘Mission Shakti’ programme. Launched in 2001, Mission Shakti has truly become a movement, bringing women to the forefront of Odisha’s development. It encouraged entrepreneurship through Self-Help Groups and is now empowering them digitally to grow & prosper. The programme aims at empowering women by helping them start income-generating activities. The self-help groups are linked to the Odisha Livelihoods Mission and Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society. The women SHGs in Odisha have become the frontline to keep the deadly virus at bay too.

At a time when doctors, nurses and paramedics have taken up the frontline to fight with the novel coronavirus infection in Odisha, State’s 70-lakh strong women Self Help Group (SHG) members turned into warriors at the panchayat level to combat Corona. SHGs was the first to spread the awareness message of the State Government on COVID-19 across every rural and urban area in the State in a matter of three days in vernacular language in a record time. The women SHG members had taken the pledge in their families and communities and had sent awareness videos of the appeal of the Hon’ble CM, Shri Naveen Patnaik to lakhs.

During lockdown when the State in some regions faced issues in distribution of ration and essential commodities, the women SHG members came forward to support respective district administration. They have till date set up around 66 ration shops in villages and towns with some having option of home delivery through mobile vans. The women SHG members were called to volunteer in the noble step to provide cooked food in their panchayats. Till date, the women SHG members have provided around 25 lakh cooked meals in various gram panchayats and urban local bodies across the State. An incredible feat!

They pioneered the Mask Odisha initiative too. The women SHG members experienced in stitching took the initiative, bought raw material, produced and distributed the masks. The masks were sold at a minimal cost to government and private organisations, hospitals, health workers and also to other people in need. The masks were also distributed at some places free of cost. Till date around 12 lakh masks have been distributed. The women SHG members have also donated their savings to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to fight COVID-19. 70 lakh members of women SHGs are representing 70 lakh families and they are the police of the individual families. They are making lockdown and social distancing a reality in real sense of term.

One can draw a close analogy of their monumental work with the termite hills, that faces all the furies of nature, yet stand stall. The termites, live secret societies of architects are the masters of construction because of their sophisticated and innovative green-energy designs perfectly capturing the current trend for environmentally friendly construction. They construct such termite hills, thanks to their commitment and consistency. Likewise, the SHGs groups are silently creating revolution, helping in the times of crisis and steering the wheel of developed Odisha because of 2 cornerstone values – Consistency and Commitment.