Women in India
- 89% of women in India are not likely to get any skilled job because they have no secondary education.
- While 68% are married less than 10% of their husbands have regular employment.
- 20% are deserted or widowed and live in urban slums.
Fair trade for them means…
- Dignity and independence, and a share of the profit for the work they do.
- Regular work, so they can provide for their family and ensure their children to go to school.
- A safe environment for their children.
Marie Philpott has just returned from visiting Tearfund’s fair trade partners in India. Here she shares about the amazing experience.
I‘ve travelled quite a bit but the extent of the poverty still came as quite a shock. Little shops and stalls by the roadside that doubled as homes; the slums; whole families living on the street with plastic bags hanging on the railings as a wardrobe, and a plastic sheet for a roof. I hadn’t realised that, for some, living in a slum was actually a step up.
Some strange juxtaposition too, slum houses with TV aerials and satellite dishes, everyone on their mobile phone. Colourful clothing against dirty, gray walls. Traffic chaos: with cars, buses, lorries and hand carts moving forward en masse, with near collisions very few seconds, perhaps just as well, because otherwise we would have been in a traffic jam for hours!
We started our visits to fair trade providers with Creative Handicrafts – it was amazing to see the co-operative enterprise that had started from just one woman’s vision. We were shown all stages of the tailoring process, from drawing the design to the quality assurance of the final products, fascinating!
It was great to see the Christian ethos shining out in the way the women are supported and cared for, for example, because some couldn’t sew, the company had started a food production area, and so they could be trained to cook instead.
Then we visited two providers in Bhuj in the region of Kutch. First, KMDS who trade under Qasab (word means “craft skill”) and Shrujan. We saw the wonderful mirror embroidery, patchwork and appliqué that is traditional in the region. All the designs are individual and hand embroidered. Muslim and Hindu ladies have different but complementary skills, with one doing the dying of the cloth and the other the embroidery.
Different communities show their unique cultural identities through their different designs and finishes. Some of the work was so fine, if I hadn’t seen the ladies sitting gripping the fabric with their knees and sewing the most minute perfect stitches, I would have thought it had been done by a machine. We met women full of laughter, sitting on the floor chatting and sewing the most beautiful pieces in vibrant colours.
Next stop, St Mary’s convent, (St Mary’s Mahila Shikshan Kendra) which was started in 1955 and is steeped in the history of the region. It offers so much to the local people as well as the sewing work for the women of Gomtipur, a slum pocket of Ahmedabad: health care, nursing home, social centre, playschool, vocational education and training.
We met a wonderful lady who had worked at St Mary’s since 1989. She does printing and as head sampler is responsible for quality assurance. Her husband also worked at the convert as a tailor, until he died in 2008. She has two children: her son is doing performing arts at college and her daughter studying commerce and part time nursing.
She is immensely proud of their achievements and profoundly grateful for the work of St Mary’s that made it possible for them to go to school and now on to college.
Then off we travelled from Ahmedabad to Dahod. We visited Suraj, an organisation which started in 1989 with 14 women and now employs 4000, many of whom collect their materials and work within their own communities. We had a go at block painting, embroidery and beading.
One of the things we learned here was more detail about why providing opportunities for women to save a little each month was so important: in India debt is passed from generation to generation, so when they borrow money from a money lender the debt goes to their children so they never get out of the poverty trap.
At Suraj they provide training so the women can manage their money better.
Our final visit was to Asha handicrafts. Asha means “hope” and it was fitting that we saw their work after the Dharavi slum. Asha Handicrafts began in 1975, to help small producers to market their goods and get a better price without “middle men” who were exploiting them. Asha make a lot of different fair trade products but we focused on jewellery making.
All in all it was an action packed week. Thanks to our guide Lucas and to Tearfund for an introduction to India that I shall never forget.