In Varanasi, we have been working with women’s savings and credit for the last 5 years now. In 2023, we started some in-depth work into their livelihoods. Though the Sampark team knows, who does what for their living in the village, to have a systematic and organized understanding, we did a survey of women’s livelihoods, to the question of would you like to learn something new and start an enterprise by yourselves, 90% of them answered YES!
We kicked off our livelihood discussion with an enterprise training for a selected few, who had some experience running small shops or running a tailoring business. 2 days of very interesting discussions of how you select a business which you could successfully run, what talents do you have, what would you like to learn etc. We had a trainer to conduct the sessions, which allowed me to observe the women’s expressions, internal discussions etc. I noticed one woman listening intensely, not nodding, not blinking, just staring at the whiteboard. I decided to speak to her during a tea break to see if the discussions were going above her head and there she started talking and spoke non-stop for 20 minutes about her journey – starting from how she was an active member of groups for over 10 years, brought women together to fight against alcoholism in the village, did group businesses, did small businesses whenever the opportunity knocked. But nothing really took off and she got back to where she started all the time.
There were 4 women, who were extremely convinced about doing a group business and just to think out loud we discussed the challenges that could arise and for every question, they had an answer. They had thought it all out! There were literate women who wanted to think something out of the box, ready to try something new, other than the regular business. They amazed us with their ideas and thoughts. We had a great 2-day session, women went home, and we started getting on with our regular work.
A week later when we touched base with them to understand how things have progressed, 2 had gone to their maike (mother’s house), 2 said– “no didi I don’t want to do anything”, 2 said– give me something at home and I will do it” and other said, “It’s ok I will just continue with what I am doing”
Are we to blame them, are we to say how unmotivated they are? All they want is an easy life and just get everything at home. We at the organizational level offered so much to them– training & skill, and all they can say is “No, not possible”. How easy!
All I want to say is while this can come as a natural thought to every urban working woman, just take a step back. Imagine you wake up, clean the place, wash vessels, and clothes (no domestic help here), make food, feed your 5 children, husband, and in-laws (mind you, no Swiggy in case you are tired to cook), take care of your cattle, feed them, go to the field manage it for the day, walk a minimum of 10 kilometres (no uber here you see!) for anything which you want to do for yourself – sell produce, learn a skill or attend an office meeting. Over and above this you have to negotiate and bargain with your family every time you have to leave the house. I think the words that will come out of my mouth are also “Leave me didi. I am just fine doing what I do, all I need is a few minutes to sit and relax!”
So, the one thing I strongly realized is that it’s not a lack of ideas or motivation, but rather a lack of support systems, and guidance. It does take a village to make a woman do something for herself, be it an urban city or a rural village. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world works around them so that she is not held back and are allowed to fly!