Putting women at the front and center of NREGA not only makes it more effective and transparent, but also changes societal perceptions of what women can and cannot do.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), or NREGA as it is popularly known, was first implemented in 2006, but until 2014-15, there was no specific mention of women’s participation in this programme. Even within the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM)—which has women-led self-help groups (SHGs) at its core—these institutions are viewed as an instrument to serve the Employment Guarantee Scheme, rather than one focused on women’s empowerment.
The NRLM-MGNREGS-CFT 1Convergence Pilot that was initiated in Jharkhand in 2014-15, changed some of that. Women’s participation increased by 10 percent in three years—to around 41 percent. Women collectives were now at the centre of planning, implementation, and monitoring, and had a voice in local governance. Large numbers of women were seen in public spaces as planners, mates, social mobilisers, trainers, and federation leaders, and NREGA assets and bank accounts were created in women’s names.