Shahin, a native of Dharavi in Mumbai, began her career as a small-time entrepreneur in 2014 with the support of a Self support Group to improve her family’s financial status. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in 2020 brought her career to a halt, leaving her struggling to feed her family financially. Unfortunately, Shahin’s story was shared by many women in India who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Even before the epidemic, the female labour participation rate (WPR) in India was over half that of the male WPR due to gender inequities such as a lack of schooling, gender-based violence, forced dropouts, early marriages, and mobility barriers. The uneven norms that women face deprive them the right to work.
United Way Mumbai’s Saksham programme has provided women from low-income neighbourhoods with the encouragement they need to become financially independent. They have worked in communities in 14 Indian states during the past few years, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Goa. Some of the program’s major initiatives include occupational and life skills development training, assistance for livelihood assets, and social and financial inclusion.
A lack of skills, knowledge, or networks to enter the workforce leaves a substantial percentage of women unemployed or underemployed. The Saksham programme supports occupational skills training for women in an effort to address this skill gap. This assistance enabled 1855 women to undertake vocational skills training courses.
While women may be skilled, a lack of financial means and capital prevents them from launching their own businesses. Saksham kits (livelihood assets) were distributed to 2123 such women to help them start their own businesses. Each kit was selected with their individual needs in mind and included vocational tools including tailoring units, wheat mill units, food service units, beauty parlour kits, handloom, weaving, and so on.
In addition, the women received entrepreneurship development courses to assist them in starting or growing their firms. The programme included vital themes such as enterprise and entrepreneurship, necessary talents and attributes to become a successful entrepreneur, possibilities and obstacles in entrepreneurship, legal compliance, funding opportunities, and so on.
It was an amazing experience travelling to a new location to learn and grow with an unexpected group of ladies that shared the same skill set and objectives. I learned so much more that my return bus ride felt like we were all returning home from school after completing formal schooling!” recalls Chandana Boro, one of the 20 women weavers from South Kamrup who visited the North East Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (NEDFi).
While weaving is commonly linked with textiles and fabric, Chandana and her fellow weavers were introduced to new weaving products, methods, raw materials, and techniques that were not related to textiles. They learnt to employ water hyacinth, banana fibre, and cane instead of cotton and silk yarn. They discovered craft forms. United Way Mumbai hopes to provide such great learning opportunities for more women in the coming years. In reality, Shahin, a Saksham programme graduate, has successfully restarted and grown her business thanks to the program’s entrepreneurship support and mentoring. She crafts pouches, bags, wall hangings, and pillow coverings from of discarded materials from clothing factories.