Karnataka, through its state government schemes, has taken proactive steps towards ensuring women’s welfare and equity. Among the five key schemes, the Shakti and the Gruha Lakshmi Scheme are particularly noteworthy. The former scheme offers free bus travel for women and transgender people, while the latter scheme provides a monthly financial stipend to women heads of households. They not only give a glimpse into Karnataka’s endeavours to advance women’s economic rights but also provide insights into how regional initiatives can potentially reshape the broader discourse of women’s economic rights.
A Boost for Women’s Mobility and Societal Participation
Inaugurated in 2023, the Shakti Scheme is Karnataka’s proactive approach to enhancing societal participation for women and transgender individuals. By offering free bus travel, the scheme looks beyond just transportation. It aims to save the beneficiaries both money and time, simultaneously augmenting their access to essentials like education, employment, and healthcare.
The scheme, by eliminating this major expense, potentially increases beneficiaries’ disposable income, allowing them to cater to other fundamental needs. For instance, the tangible impact of these initiatives is visible for women from rural areas. Several women farmers from Hassan who have to regularly visit Madikeri and Kodagu markets and also go door-to-door to sell locally grown vegetables, said they are “able to save over 200 rupees every day with the Shakti scheme”. Such stories underscore the tangible impact of these initiatives.
Its alignment with human rights is also significant. Providing free transportation, is in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which provides for the right to work (Article 6), health (Article 12), and education (Article 13). It also touches upon the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), fostering the right to participate in public life (Article 25) and upholding principles of non-discrimination and equality.
Within its nascent stages, the scheme’s reach is already evident with its first week witnessing more than 30 million women passengers benefitting and the numbers rising to 386.9 million women by mid-August.
Paving the Way for Women’s Financial Autonomy
In parallel, the Gruha Lakshmi Scheme provides a monthly financial stipend of 2000 rupees to women heads of the family with the objective of enhancing living standards and enabling economic resilience. This initiative is particularly pertinent when considering that India has reached only 36.7% gender parity on economic participation and opportunity. The scheme directly addresses the pervasive wage gap and exacerbated gendered income inequality in the case of informal workers in India, a group particularly vulnerable in terms of consistent income and employment protection. By providing a monthly stipend to women heads of households, the scheme not only bridges this gendered economic disparity but also offers a safety net for informal sector workers, providing much needed financial stability.
Furthermore, this initiative aligns seamlessly with international human rights principles. Direct financial aid corresponds with ICESCR’s Article 11, emphasising an adequate standard of living and also interlinks with access to social security (Article 9). The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) further buttresses this, championing gender equality and advocating women’s involvement in public spheres.
According to the media reports, the Gruha Lakshmi scheme has already reached 11.2 million women, and its outreach is expected to only expand further.
Women’s Empowerment as a Societal Goal and a Smart Economic Strategy
Karnataka’s twin initiatives stand out due to their holistic approach, amalgamating both monetary aid and mobility, recognising their intertwined nature. While the early success of both schemes is evident, they represent more than mere policy successes for Karnataka. Rather, they symbolise a broader vision for gender equality, inclusivity, and human rights affirmation. In fact, such initiatives, with their intricate blend of societal benefits alongside human rights, present a model worthy of global attention. The world should observe and consider emulating Karnataka’s approach, adapting it as a blueprint for similar challenges elsewhere.
Moreover, empowering women is not just about achieving a societal goal premised on substantive equality for all; it is also a smart economic strategy. As women gain better access to education and work, they are likely to contribute more significantly to the economy. With the Shakti and Gruha Lakshmi Schemes in place, and the resultant increased disposable income, women are more likely to invest in their children’s education and health, leading to a cyclical effect of economic growth and improved quality of life. This insight transcends political ideologies, whether left-wing or right-wing. Such policies truly deserve the attention of governments worldwide, not as a partisan endeavour, but as a universally beneficial strategy for societal advancement in accordance with fundamental human rights and intersectional empowerment.