[Women's Entrepreneurship Day] How ChildFund India is empowering women micro-entrepreneurs across India
Thirty-five-year-old Meera Katare from Sikarpura village in Madhya Pradesh used to work as a labourer in the nearest city, Indore. In addition to uncertain pay and unfavourable working conditions, the routine affected her children’s education.
Today, the mother of two works as a poultry farmer as a member of Maa Sharawali Mahila Murgipalan Samuha, one of the thousands of self-help groups that ChildFund India has set up to support women’s livelihoods in their own village.
As her own boss, Meera earns Rs 38,000 in a farming cycle of 90 days and invests Rs 8,000 in the next cycle. More importantly, life has become more stable as her 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter regularly attended government school in the village before COVID-19 hit.
Neelam Makhijani, CEO and the Country Director of ChildFund India says promoting women entrepreneurship plays a key role in protecting children from child marriage, labour, and trafficking.
“Migrating to cities in search of work poses a threat to their security as well due to sexual, physical and emotional exploitation. Making them entrepreneurs helps them gain financial independence and they are able to provide better quality of life to their children and family as a whole,” she tells HerStory.
The organisation has been working on the 3E model, which stands for employment, entrepreneurship, and empowerment. Many women like Meera have gained socially and financially from poultry farming initiatives as part of the sustainable livelihood development programme.
As the pandemic wreaked havoc on lives of migrant workers, ChildFund India launched a programme to train women in Uttar Pradesh, in areas of climate resilient agriculture and earn additional income for the family.
In states like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, it has empowered young women to look at social enterprise opportunities by producing sanitary napkins. At the same time, women in urbans area who are willing to pursue higher studies have been awarded scholarships and provided help with placements as well.
Established in 1951 and present in 15 states, Neelam says the organisation has easily impacted the lives of over 30 million women in the last few decades.
Leading the efforts, she makes sure the initiatives are sustainable and are able to uplift communities by breaking the cycle of poverty.
As appealing as the work of women as small-scale entrepreneur sounds, Neelam is also wary of not subjecting them to a vicious cycle of debt.
“My only concern is that we should be able to give them seed money or some capital to start with so as not to cause them trouble for the rest of their lives,” she says.
She says that ChildFund India ensures work to achieve its sustainable impact through generations.
A different world for women entrepreneurship
The organisation is clear in its approach towards promoting women entrepreneurship. “We work with the family. In rural parts of India, you can't work with the woman alone and pick one over the other but engage the menfolk of the family as well,” Neelam says.
In a conversation with Herstory, she makes it clear that women entrepreneurship, at least in rural India, is steering towards growth.
For one, digital capabilities have made women more confident. “They want to be more independent and that is huge trend coming through. Earlier, it was absolute subservience to their family members and husband but that is changing,” she says, adding, that women have started speaking up for their rights.
The organisation’s community coordinators are primary witness to this. During their community and door-to-door meetings in the village to have women join the programmes, they spoke about the need to be committed and the minimum amount of time required.
“Earlier, men would not allow women to help them out, especially in rural areas. But now there are several instances of men who have set up corner stores from their earnings from their chicken shed and poultry farming. It is a different world,” Neelam shares.
From only men of the house owning a bank account to ensuring each woman has an account to their name, ChildFund has ensured women enjoy a high degree of financial independence. This, Neelam says, is the impact of the organisation’s advocacy work in rural India.
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan