Working Paper
The political economy of women’s empowerment policies in India

Understanding it through the beginning and end of the Mahila Samakhya programme

This paper analyses the political economy of women’s-empowerment-related policy-making in India through a re-examination of the context of both the genesis and closure of a major programme, Mahila Samakhya.

Mahila Samakhya, which embodied feminist philosophy and pedagogy, started in 1987 with the aim of creating the education-based empowerment of Dalit and Adivasi women in rural India, and was inexplicably shut down in 2014.

We argue that a combination of political philosophy, electoral majority, and contemporary global trends influenced both the beginning and the demise of the programme.

We argue that programmes such as Mahila Samakhya, which called for a long and messy process of collectivization of the most marginalized women using the methodology of reflection and reconstruction, became much less desirable with global shifts in development discourse.

These shifts towards more ‘evidence’-based policy focused much more on immediate ‘outcomes’ than on ‘processes’, much to the detriment of programmes such as Mahila Samakhya.