READ India and Amazon Cares Centers have provided sustainable employment and helped rural women stand on their feet
Santosh, Meena and Geeta, armed with skill development and sustained employment, are fiercely driven to support their family. They want to secure a bright future for their children and provide them education and skills - something they did not have before.
Geeta lives in Jhamwas village of Tauru district in Mewat; Meena is from Kumaspur, Sonipat; and Santosh lives in Jamalpur village of Manesar district in Haryana. These women are adept at skilling and earn their living by stitching satin cloth bags used for packaging. One of them teaches stitching, and another has a shop of her own.
As they savour economic independence and find their feet, they are ensuring their children have a good education and a better future. READ India and Amazon Cares Centers have not only helped these women earn a livelihood, but have also invested in a holistic approach to change things at the rural level through their community centres. The story of these three women is their testimony.
For the past two years, Meena has been an instructor at the community centre in her village. A mother of three, she trains other women in stitching and also makes cloth bags to earn money. In 2016, when her husband, the sole breadwinner of the family passed away, Meena’s life seemed bleak.
Despair led her to look for all means to support her family, and she leveraged her stitching skills and found work at the community centre. Thanks to her expertise, she also became an instructor. She started by instructing eight women, and now instructs nearly 40. Her message to other women she trains is, “Take charge of your responsibilities, and you will be able to see them through.”
Meena has become a voice for the women of her community, and has learnt basic English to help her story reach a wider audience. She uses her earnings to run her household as a single parent, send her three kids to school, and someday, she hopes to “fulfill their dreams of becoming respectable citizens”.
Santosh’s husband died due to excessive alcohol use in 2016. After his death, she was struggling to make ends meet to support her three daughters. “It was a very tough time for me,” shares an emotional Santosh. However, armed with the three-month sewing and stitching training, she started making satin bags, and eventually saved up to open her own shop.
Santosh earns around Rs 4,500 per month now. Though her earnings are not enough for a comfortable living, she hopes that her venture will take off gradually, and she will start getting a steady stream of customers.
“My daughter helps me, and that is how it is possible for me to manage the shop, stitch the bags, and manage household chores,” she says.
Santosh wants her daughters to have a good education, so it can help them have access to better opportunities. As someone who studied till class 10th, Santosh realises the value of a good education.
Geeta’s husband works in a factory, and they have two daughters and a son. Her in-laws also stay with them, which means one earning member has to feed a family of seven. Feeling the pinch, Geeta decided to support her family economically, and ease the burden of her husband.
A free-of-cost, three-month skill training enabled her to get started. Soon, with her newly-acquired skill, she started stitching satin bags and also started receiving stitching orders from her neighbours. Geeta now earns Rs 5,000 a month, and has the much-needed money, and the Center supported by giving her a sewing machine through government schemes. Now she can sustain her family with the earnings and fund her children’s education. She is enthusiastic about opening her own shop someday.
Data shows one out of three women in India are illiterate and unable to earn an income to support their families, as they lack basic education and skill. A Policy Research Working Paper on the Precarious Drop Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Force Participation in India by World Bank, the female labour force participation (FLFP) has been falling. The paper suggests that increasing women’s access to education and skills will not necessarily lead to a rise in FLFP.
“Gains will not be realised unless social norms around women’s (and men’s) work also change, and/or unless rural labour markets offer forms of employment that are acceptable and attractive for women and their families,” the report highlights.
To address these issues, Geeta, Santosh and Meena’s story is a good example, for it shows how multiple stakeholders are needed to make changes at the ground level.
For example, in this case, Amazon Cares, the CSR arm of Amazon India, with its philosophy of being ‘good neighbours’, has partnered with READ India in regions where it has its fulfillment centres so the community center can address the broad needs of the community.
Education, skill development and livelihood, women empowerment, environment, and health and hygiene are the pillars of the engagement initiatives at the centre.
For women, Amazon has not only engaged with local sarpanch and influencers, but the work that READ India has done by interacting with the community has helped to change mindsets, and more importantly, understand and identify the primary challenges of the community and how they can be best addressed.
Complementing the National Skills Development Corporation initiatives and programmes, READ India, a non-profit organisation working across rural Asia, has provided these women the opportunity to have more than just skills.
READ India is complementing the work of the government by building a community library and research centre and helping launch small businesses, says Country Director Geeta Malhotra.
“READ Centers are giving women the chance to learn to read, teach people about their rights, and give rural villagers skills to earn a living. Sustaining enterprises range from a gooseberry processing facility to sewing and weaving businesses. READ India is home to one of our all-women-operated centers, as well as several women self-help groups,” says Geeta.
Women can not only bring their children to the centre while they learn stitching, but their children can use the library and play, and there is no one to disturb them. Women also get the opportunity to talk to each other and share their problems and concerns.
Under the women empowerment initiative by READ India and Amazon Cares, after a three-month tailoring course and certification, the women stitch satin bags that are used by Amazon.
“These bags are used for packaging of shoes at the fulfillment centre, which earlier used to be made by an outsourced vendor. The community centre has specifications on the material, embossing, dimensions, finishing, etc, by the procurement team, and are supported by the implementation NGO partner.
The bags, once done, go through a quality check and the feedback is shared back with the women. The women are also paid for the bags they stitch every month by the implementation NGO partner, thus providing them a source of income right in their neighborhood,” shares the Amazon spokesperson.
But it’s more than just livelihood and economic independence. It is also about the self-confidence of women like Santosh, Meena and Geeta. Most of these women have never stepped out of their house, never had access to money and resources, and have never stood out or stood up as individuals with decision-making powers. Their confidence in themselves, along with economic independence, has been the game changer.
The money they earn may not bring them luxury, but it is a start that helps them provide for their family, and brings food on the table, and gives them the opportunity to hope for a better future for their children.