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The Kudumbashree Agitation in Kerala

Class Feminism

The day and night agitation organised by women self-help groups in Kerala associated with Kudumbashree - offi cially known as the State Poverty Eradication Mission - proves that weaker section of society can be mobilised and empowered through decentralisation and participatory development. The agitation was an appropriate reply to critics who equated decentralisation with depoliticisation of the development process and an ideological deviation from class struggle.

The women’s movement in Kerala reflects the value system, demands and methods of agitation of different strands of feminism. Socialist feminism is not dominant in Kerala despite the fact that the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) has a large membership, and debates relating to third generation feminism and its subversive politics are principally confined to women intellectuals and celebrities. The enactment of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution that ushered in an era of decentralisation in local self-governance, percolation of procedural democracy to the grass roots, reservations for women in elected bodies, and gender-inclusive welfare programmes have seen women’s participation in public spaces, political institutions, and democratic struggles.1

Public cynicism, especially among men, about women’s entry into politics has gradually faded. The decision of the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF) government (2006-11) to increase reservation for women to 50% in local bodies is an indication of a gender-class combination emerging in local politics. However, the presence of women in politics and allocation of an appropriate share of welfare funds for women was not achieved because of massive agitations. Indeed, as a category of political citizens, women had a very passive relationship with the welfare state.2 In addition, a large majority of women’s organisations have remained independent from political parties, which is a reason for both their strength and weakness.

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