Women Can Transform Families, Communities & Nation - If Only We Let Them!

Women Can Transform Families, Communities & Nation - If Only We Let Them!

Women Can Transform Families, Communities & Nation - If Only We Let Them!

Pearl Tiwari, Director and CEO - Ambuja Cement Foundation, 0

With 37 years of experience in the development sector, Ms. Tiwari is a social development professional having worked in this area across diverse academic, NGO and CSR roles. A post-graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), she completed the Executive Education Course in CSR from the Harvard Business School in 2008 and the Management Program in Sustainability from Stockholm, Sweden in 2010.

Michelle Obama once famously said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” And nowhere is this more relevant than in a country like India, where despite it being the 21st Century, women remain saddled with the majority of household work, and patriarchal norms restrict them to their homes. It is little wonder then that 3 out of 4 Indian women are not working outside home.

But women across rural India are stepping ‘out’ and stepping ‘up’ – providing inspiring examples of just exactly what a woman can do, if only her family and community let her!

Stepping into Cotton Procurement - Jandu Devi SHG, Chandrapur
In the early 2000’s, farmers in the tribal belt on Telengana’s border – Chandrapur, were at the mercy of local money lenders, who monopolized the cotton market – often refusing to pay market rates for crops and pushing the already marginal farmers further into poverty. It was their wives who stepped in to turn things around by harnessing the power of their SHGs to procure cotton at market rates, and on-selling it directly to the local ginner – making a profit in the process. It was a win, win situation.

Formed in 2003, the Jandu Devi SHG had a long history of entrepreneurship, starting their journey by investing just INR 800 in chickens and turned profits around to reinvest and diversify into new business lines, like goats. But to break the reliance on money lenders, the SHG made a strategy and presented it to the Maharashtra State Livelihood Mission - to enter the cotton trade. Starting with just three SHGs, the group visited a local gin to better understand the business – learn how to ensure cotton quality and other difficulties in buying and selling cotton.

In the first year, these largely inexperienced and illiterate, yet business savvy women sold 464.72 quintal of cotton – pocketing a profit of INR 1.13 lakh. In 2020 the cotton trading movement spread, and 32 SHGs bought and sold 1200 quintal of cotton (numbers were down due to the pandemic) –using the proceeds to kick-start the purchase of farm inputs collectively (seeds, fertilizer and pesticides). In the process, women from 39 SHGs turned the fortunes of their family farms around, and single-handedly provided a direct competition to the money lender monopoly that had crippled the region for decades!
A Dichotomy Exists in India
Despite huge efforts to educate and empower girls, there are still challenges of allowing them to venture outside their own villages or towns due to safety or mobility. Along with an increase in young working women, more married women are held back in life – suppressed, unable to pursue fulfilling opportunities, and saddled by the burden of trying to juggle the household, children and work. Bound by domestic chores and regressive social norms, they are largely restricted to the home – often requiring the permission of family patriarchs to step out of the house. Additionally, a culture exists which also sees a woman subordinate herself to the family’s needs.

Who is most severely affected? Women from low income groups, who lack the relevant skills, education and voice to carve out their own identity. They are denied of opportunities to work, learn and grow in life, leaving them potentially stifled, along with the growth of local communities, enterprises and economies.

She can unlock her power by pursuing opportunities outside the home, earn and be self-reliant.

For women hold immense power – to create positive change in their families and communities, to contribute financially and forge their own path in life. She can unlock her power by pursuing opportunities outside the home, earn and be self-reliant. When denied of that power, she is held back in life, and everybody loses out as a result!

What is Holding Women Back?
Indian women face significant ‘time poverty’ due to their disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic work, second only to Kazakhstan. Gendered responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and fetching water limit their access to education and employment.

A 'Permission Culture' prevails in India, where 79.9 percent of women must obtain male family members' consent for medical care, 58 percent for a local store visit, and 51 percent risk violence for leaving home without permission. Stereotypes in Bollywood, media, and school curricula reinforce the idea that a woman's place is at home. This issue is further compounded by women's self-perception and deeply ingrained gender roles. Women tend to believe they can only do certain jobs and prioritize marriage. The education system often lacks technical skills, hindering employability.

Moreover, the absence of female-friendly facilities, transportation challenges, safety concerns, and lax enforcement of sexual harassment laws further deter women from pursuing work outside the home.

Women's participation and income generation provide purpose, self-worth, and social connections. Earning instills confidence and respect, transforming family dynamics. This empowers positive change in families and communities, turning women into influential leaders. To unlock their potential, women need educational and economic opportunities. India, with a vast GDP potential, can benefit significantly from increasing women's labor force participation by just 10 percent. Women are more than mere homemakers; they hold untapped potential. By freeing them from time constraints and societal restrictions, we unleash their full capabilities and drive progress.