Disaster Resilience through Economic Empowerment of Women and Excluded Communities in Kerala

Disaster Resilience through Economic Empowerment of Women and Excluded Communities in Kerala

The 2018 floods in Kerala had affected the lives of many women and girls, boys and men, differently abled persons, and transgender group in different ways. This is primarily because of the existing systemic and structural marginalisation of these social groups at all levels. There are discriminatory practices, pre-existing within our society that leads to unequal access to and control over resources, among the socially and economically disadvantaged groups. These groups have also shown uneven levels of resilience and capacities to recover from a disaster.

Livelihood was severely affected in the flooding and landslides of 2018. Crops were destroyed. In fact, 88% of the total loss and damage was incurred in the agriculture sector; this was followed by livestock (10%) and fishery/aquaculture (2%).

The loss of livelihoods, especially for the excluded and marginalised community had crippled their ability to recover quickly. Their risks are further exacerbated due to excessive reliance on unpaid work carried out by women, unequal access to essential services and resources, and emerging psycho-social needs. 

At least 3,550 women entrepreneurs within Kudumbasree, the state’s poverty eradication initiative, were affected. The overall loss to Kerala’s Kudumbasree microenterprise units—set up by women using loans received through the initiative—amounted to INR 7.80 crore.

Strategy to ensure gender equality and social inclusion 

At Oxfam, we believe that if Kerala has to truly recover, it needs to restore the flourishing livelihoods that existed prior to the floods, especially those built on women’s labour. Ensuring access to and control over economic resources, especially immovable assets, are the precondition to women’s empowerment as the strategic intervention point.
Oxfam worked closely with Kudumbasree (Kerala’s Mission for Poverty Eradication) and the district administration to reach out to the most marginalised groups in Pathanamthitha and Alappuzha districts. Oxfam reached out to groups with members from excluded communities especially women and people with disabilities who faced the worst impact of the disaster and were struggling to revive their income generation activities.
Oxfam focused on the Sustainable Development Goal 5, ‘Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls’ as one of the key points of the intervention. We recognised the empowerment of marginalised communities, especially women, is essential to achieving the goals of poverty alleviation, literacy and health, among other areas of development. 

Oxfam worked with 60 SHGs and 4000 households in Alappuzha and Pathanamthitha district with the objective to ensure increased access to augmented livelihoods opportunities leading towards increased food security. Among them, 20 SHGs received training on bamboo craftswoman skills, 20 received inputs support of around Rs 1 lakh, and the last set of 20 received a small grant of about Rs 50,000. The group that received small grants were able to start small scale businesses like bakery and catering services, soda water unit, paper creasing business, curry powder making, tailoring unit, laundry unit, and garment business.

 Oxfam provided training on bamboo craft to 200 women from 20 SHG groups. 150 women and 20 men, who are differently abled, from 17 SHG groups received livelihood input support. 150 women from SHGs received support to run food units as part of income generation activities. 

How Oxfam Helped

First, a study was conducted on the existing livelihoods practices of the women SHGs and the availability of government support to ensure economic empowerment of women, especially through the Kudumbasree groups. Second, locally viable livelihood options were identified and training was provided based on the options in collaboration with Kudumbasree, Krishi Vigyan Kendra and State Livelihood Mission. Next, culturally appropriate livelihood inputs were provided to the marginalised groups to revive the livelihood alternatives, and finally, the SHGs were linked with the market to ensure a sustainable and a successful business model. 


The Untold Stories of Resilience 

Fairland Special Group: An SHG of differently abled persons 


Fairland Special Group is a group of differently abled people who make paper bags for livelihood.

“Before the floods the unit could produce 500 paper bags a day. After the flood it got reduced to 50 as only feasible option left with us was making the bags manually. This in turn affected the livelihood of the people dependant on the unit,” said Sathyan, secretary of Fairland Special Group.  

Fairland Special Group, which has been functioning in Mavelikkara block panchayat in Alappuzha district since 2016, is a Self Help Group of differently-abled persons; in this SHG 15 out of 30 members are bedridden. 

The SHG has been running a paper bag making unit for the past four years. In the floods of 2018, the unit and its surrounding area was inundated and machineries were rendered defunct. As a result of this, the productivity of the unit got dwindled to 10% of the past productivity.
Oxfam, then, extended support to Fairland Special Group with paper creasing machine and raw materials to help them revive their business. The profit from the unit is now being shared equally by the 15 persons who are working on it; a fair share of this amount is also provided to the other 15 bedridden members of the group during an emergency, including medical aid.

Bamboo craftswomen: An innovative livelihood intervention 

Women self-help groups were trained on bamboo craft to earn their livelihoods.

“I was extremely afraid after seeing the machines, I thought that only men can work on those machine. We also felt that the machine will be very heavy to manage and handle. But when I learned to use it, I was very happy because we were able to use that machines,” said Preetha Satish. 

Oxfam with support from Microsoft, and RIGHTS, a local organisation provided support to 20 women SHGs from the excluded communities on bamboo crafts. This programme aimed at building a business model run by women by providing them adequate training equipment and raw materials, and linking them with the market. Oxfam coordinated with Kudumbasree for continuous handholding support for sustaining the income generation activity of the SHGs.

Preetha further said “I have received training and I am hopeful that I will be able to start a small entrepreneurship shortly. Apart from the training and new work now we women can also share our concerns with each other.” 

A laundry business: run by women

Women living along the Punnamada lake wash linen from the houseboats to earn their livelihoods. Oxfam India provided washing machines to ease their back breaking work.

Venma Laundry unit is a SHG run by 10 economically backward women living on the banks of Punnamada lakes in Alappuzha district. Alappuzha is well known for its backwaters and house boats, which brings in many income generation opportunities for women. One among such business is the laundry business, which women run from their households.

The Venma SHG used to collect laundry from resorts and houseboats during the day and return washed clothes in the evening. Floods destroyed their laundry units and washing machines as a result of which they were manually washing and drying dirty linen. Loss of tourism also affected their business. Cleaning and washing dirty clothes manually is a back-breaking work, but the women continued the business as they had limited financial resources to buy washing machine. 

Oxfam intervened with the help of Kudumbasree mission. After the assessment, the group was supported with industrial purpose washing machine worth Rs 1 lakh by Oxfam with the support of Microsoft. Now the unit is functioning at a larger scale and are earning a good profit. 

Kudumbasree is monitoring the same and assisting them to get a wider market. The entire group expressed their heartfelt gratitude towards Oxfam and Microsoft for supporting them in their crucial time.


Oxfam India, with support from donors and partners, responded to floods in Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. We reached out to 3,31,570 people of 66,314 households. As a part of Disaster Risk Reduction, 3.7 lakh people are trained and now resilient to face the natural disasters in disaster-prone intervention areas.


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