A Step in the right direction: Giving new meaning to Women empowerment

As I narrate this, I do so with pride: Proud at having been able to witness the events of change unfold before me. I had always imagined “important meetings” to take place in high profile offices. After having been a part of the social sector, I have realised that it is the willingness to work and an undefeatable sense of purpose that is essential; and an “important meeting” can take place in a room, a shack or as in this case, in a government school.

At MANTRA, one of the key elements of our project is working on enabling community. To this end, we keep exploring meaningful partnerships that can bring (economic) opportunities to the doorsteps of these people in the community. Today’s is a story from one of such communities that we work very closely with.

It is a community like any other low-income community that has blended so seamlessly with the more affluent part of the city that nobody gives a second thought about its being, purpose or reason. The agenda for the day’s meeting was to create self sufficiency amongst the women in the community. These women work at the local ‘beedi’-rolling and ‘agarbathi’-making factories in order to supplement the meagre income that their husbands bring. The wages that the men in the family receive often reduces before they reach home due to many habits, they have inculcated over the years.
Along with Mantra came the rather influential benefactor of the community and Mr. Venkat Raman Iyer and the other people in attendance were the women in the community. Having turned myself into the photographer for the event, I happened to notice how raptly everybody listened to Mr. Iyer as he spoke of how in a similar community, he along with the women in the community formed a self- sustaining group. They make cloth bags that are sold to nearby shops. While the women earn some amount of financial independence, an environment-friendly alternative is being provided. What a brilliant example of killing two birds with one stone..! Thus, the meeting set the wheels of change in motion.
About a week later, I visited the community in Koramangala with my colleague, Pallav and the ladies from our community. We met the group of ladies who successfully run the cloth bag enterprise. As we entered the house of the ‘aunty’ who manages the entire process, we witnessed piles of cloth bags and cloth material, covering every inch of the floor. We seated ourselves on one of those piles and ‘aunty’ dove straight into business. She opened by explaining different kinds of materials used for making the bags and followed it up by demonstrating how to measure and cut each kind of material. Once she felt that sufficient practice time had been provided to the ‘visiting’ ladies, she moved on to explaining how to maintain and tally accounts effectively. It was impressive to watch how she articulated her experiences as manager and shared them with the audience. She went onto say that it is imperative that the accounts manager make each tailor sign in a separate book mentioning the number of bags submitted, once they have been counted in front of the tailor, in order to avoid misunderstandings later on. She then let the ladies use the sewing machine in her house, so that each of them can practice sewing a bag. As the machine whirred on and each lady got to work, they started sharing their experiences in their community. They disclosed that they don’t feel valued and often are at a disadvantage of being a woman. This meant that they don’t get paid regularly for the work they do. The work being rolling ‘beedis’ and ‘agarbathis’ in the nearby factory.
As they each flourished a cloth bag proudly, I overheard one of the ladies, Gulnaz promise Pallav that she will stand by us for the good of the people.

 

As I took leave of the group, I walked away light-hearted, yet excited.
– The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 
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