Journey: Simple girl to Seamstress
In the year 2015, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group- AWAG had obtained ‘Young Women Social Entrepreneurship Training’ from British Council, sponsored by DIAGEO. This training program was divided into two phases, I & II where 100 young women had to be trained to emerge as successful social entrepreneurs. The YWSE training was cascaded to another 100 grassroot women between the age group of 18-35 years over the course of one year.
In the year 2016, VIZTAR International, through Ministry of Textiles approached AWAG with a training proposal for sewing and stitching. The idea was to train young girls on how to stitch, sew and make finished products. Since AWAG runs an income generation center for sustainable livelihoods, where we host sewing machines and make products for our clothing brand EK AWAG, the organisation took this opportunity to create entrepreneurship possibilities for young girls.
As part of this project, we now train young girls how to stitch and make high quality end products. Many of the girls whom AWAG had trained for YWSE program appeared for the first round of this training. The same girls brought in more young women to undergo this training with AWAG. Since we had imparted YWSE training to some of these women, they understood the importance of coming and attending the stitching training at AWAG. The YWSE program had enabled them to learn a certain skill and put it into practice to obtain financial benefits.
We at AWAG, run this stitching training for a period of three months per batch. VIZTAR International has proposed to provide financial support to AWAG for another four years. With this we will be able to approach more young women and girls and convert them into entrepreneurs so that they are self employed, self dependent and self sustained. Meanwhile, over the course of one training, i.e. three months time, we try and impart glimpses of YWSE concept to these girls by conducting additional theory sessions to motivate them perform better. AWAG hopes that these simple girls coming from low socio-economic backgrounds, will convert themselves into successful seamstresse.
Last month, AWAG took part in the Global Giving Winter Challenge, with the aim of raising £2500 in a space of 5 weeks from over 50 individual donors. The challenge involved raising money for one project, for which AWAG chose phase II of our previously successful sanitary and menstrual health project. More information can be found on our project page:
In order to tackle this challenge, AWAG decided to host an ‘Around the World in 10 Kilometres’ run, where our AWAG’s supporters across the globe were given the opportunity to take part in a sponsored 10 kilometre run for the campaign.
We had participants running in various cities, including London, Kent, Liverpool, Hong Kong, Munich, Ireland and Sydney.
The campaign was a huge success and we raised a whopping £5000 for AWAG. This meant not only gaining permanent affiliation with Global Giving and passing their Winter Challenge, but winning a bonus prize of £500 for having the most donors of all the NGO’s who took part in the challenge.
AWAG would like to say a huge thank you to all runners, donors and supporters who helped us in this campaign. We couldn’t have done it without you!
Health Organisation (2011) reported India as the most depressed nation. Despite this negative honour, mental health is still highly stigmatised in Indian society. To address this under-emphasised issue, AWAG has undertaken a ‘Mental health project for Women and Adolescents’ since 2008 wherein underprivileged women and children can benefit from free expert counselling.
Nearly every one, at some point of time has been through a dark phase in life; a phase where you feel worthless and a sense of failure engulf you. You are unable to enjoy happiness and have lost complete motivation for life. You feel sad over nothing and it kills to figure out the reason for your sadness. When you try to express this empty feeling to people around you, you are either labelled a ‘drama queen’ or asked to ‘man-up’!
In today’s volatile personal and professional relationships, conscious effort is needed to maintain emotional resilience. Depression affects so many people that it is now called the common cold of mental disorder. Here are 5 low cost ways to deal with depression without medication:
1) Agony aunts – When you have things bothering you, which are uncomfortable to discuss with family, turn to your best friend. Talk to a person who is unlikely to judge you and you’ll be surprised to know he/she will go out of their way to help you cope up with it!
2) Zen is the word – Studies have found yoga, Tai-chi and qigong to be beneficial in managing depression and relaxing your emptiness. A consistent aerobic exercise program for 4 months is beneficial in combating depression.
3) Turn to hobbies – In a fast paced world, we often forget the importance of having a hobby. Activities like painting, reading and sports aid in fighting isolation and obsessive thinking. And ladies, yes, retail therapy included.
4) Do something different – if you are a ‘reading- book’ kind of a person, try to join a sports club; if you are a ‘sports person’, try to bake a cake. Trying something new alters the level of dopamine in brain which is the hormone associated with pleasure, enjoyment and learning!
5) Pet an animal – Studies have shown that pets have a positive impact on our behaviour. The unconditional love and affection they offer, effect on our endorphins and serotonin thereby relieving stress.
6) Solo vacations – Getting away alone could give you time to evaluate yourself about the things you are doing right and wrong. Admiring Mother Nature (country-side) could give you a chance to break from your busy city life and contemplate on life. It can also be a great way to meet new people and analyse their way of life. Not that it will make you forget your trauma, but you will gain the potential to deal with it in a positive way.
7) Volunteer – Volunteering for a cause you are passionate about could be one of the ways to distract your mind. Knowing that you have made a positive difference by lending a hand to someone in genuine need could help you feel better about yourself and get a good night’s sleep.
If you would like to volunteer for AWAG, please send us your resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having followed some of this and still have a sense of depression most of the time, please do not hesitate to visit a counselling centre. We need to open up about mental health.
‘Women rights is human rights and human rights is women rights’
–Dr. Ilaben Patak, AWAG
According to United Nations (1978), all human beings are born free and are equal in dignity and rights. Human rights are inherent to all human beings irrespective of nationality, gender, religion or social status.
The constitution of India also pledges equal rights of men and women. However, in the domain of women’s rights in India, there exists a significant gap between theory and practice. India still follows a strong patriarchal system, where men are accepted to be superior in the society. On the other hand, women are being constantly discriminated and dishonored in some form or the other. With women disproportionately being subjected to rape, dowry, child marriage, sexual harassment etc. one begins to wonder if India is violating human rights of women.
In reality, how many women receive the same education and equal opportunities as men? Even today, when people are asked what does human rights mean to them, most of them focus on rights of a man. AWAG urges people to consider that women have equal rights to men. They should be given their rights, so they have the same societal, economic and political status as men. Women should be equally respected and honored in her environment.
One of the important reasons to celebrate Human Rights day at AWAG is to shed light on the importance of ‘equal rights’. The organization took part in a rally at Lal Darwaza, Ahmedabad, Gujarat collaborating with 12 other charity organisations including Movement of secular democracy (MSD), Peoples Union for Civil Society (PUCL) and Ahmedabad Muslims Women’s Association (AMWA) to commemorate Human Rights Day. These type of civil society movements provide a platform to educate the masses and ensure women will not be discriminated against men based on gender anymore.
‘The fighting of women’s human rights from 1948 wen the UN made the human rights committee to 21st century 2015 has been going on, but there is still so much left to do’
– Ms. Nalini Trivedi, AWAG
AWAG has initiated a ‘health and hygiene project’ in the villages of Radhanpur, Gujarat to raise awareness on reproductive and menstrual health along with entrepreneurial training for marketing of sanitary pads and other hygiene products.
Coming from a big city, I have never much pondered upon menstruation being a taboo for most of the Indian women. It came to me as a surprise when I became a part of AWAG and learnt about the various activities that the organisation conducts at the village level with grass root women.
Can you imagine unhygienic materials being used instead of sanitary napkins during menstruation? Unfortunately, It’s the reality of more than 8 out of 10 Indian women during menstruation. A research study conducted by AC Nielsen and Plan India survey (2011) revealed that only 12% of menstruating Indian women use sanitary napkins. A shocking 88% of total population rely on traditional practises such as using old fabrics, sand, saw dust, dry leaves and newspapers during periods. Not to ignore the number of vaginal infections these cultural practises lead to, making women susceptible to a number of diseases such as cancer of cervix, urinary tract infection and removal of the uterus.
In addition, there are a number of cultural myths being followed by menstruating women in India. Here are some of the myths tagged along with menstruation:
1) Period blood kills crops and rusts iron – It is believed that menstrual blood contains a poison called ‘menotoxins’ which kills the crops. No, it is just shredding of your uterine walls made up of one’s own blood.
2) Sex on your period causes deformed babies – It is possible to get pregnant on your period days but no evidence to support deformed babies. It could be possible that it was made up to avoid stains on the sheets.
3) You can’t go swimming during periods – It is believed that swimming increases cramps. Not true, water has a pain relieving property which might actually help women with the menstrual cramps.
4) Slipping some of the menstrual blood into a man’s food or drink will cause him to madly fall in love with you – a common myth amongst Asian and African cultures. Not true again. The possibility of him running away from you is for sure though!
5) Other people can tell that you have your period – no, not unless you stain your clothes and people can see! 23% of Indian girls skip school at least 5 days every month during menstrual season as they consider it a curse.
Such cultural myths around menstruation give women a sense of being impure and inferior during that time of the month. Taboos have a negative impact on a women’s emotional state and lifestyle practises causing detrimental effects on health. Poor protection and limited knowledge of puberty and reproductive health stigmatise the phenomenon.
Why is there such a taboo to guide women on naturally occurring changes during puberty? Why is it still considered a ‘hush hush’ affair when it happens every time of the month?
Raising awareness is extremely important to break these traditional myths. Awareness induces confidence in women to openly talk and clarify doubts around it rather than blindly following the traditional practices. AWAG’s ‘health and hygiene’ program aims to shed light on this burning issue. To learn more about this project and make a donation, please follow the link – http://www.globalgiving.co.uk/projects/training-130-women-youth-health-leaders-in-gujarat/
I am happy to support this incredible cause and you should do it too!
Sengupta, H (2014) Recasting India: How entrepreneurship is revolutionizing the world’s largest democracy.
by Pinal (Student, Masters in Social Work, Mahatama Gandhi Labour Institute and AWAG intern)
It is unbelievable how much wisdom I have attained in a short span of three months! Back when I reflect, it was like a blank paper, I had come to AWAG for my internship, along with seven other classmates. I had high expectations to learn, was looking forward to understand the philosophy of feminism and wanted to know all the work that AWAG has been doing for women betterment and empowerment. And let me comment, my expectations have been fully taken care of.
Over the course of the internship, I studied the black and white in the classroom and also visited the field to gain practical experience. Miss Tasneem Sara, helped us during the course and there were several other AWAG members like Praveen Bhai, Nazma ben, Naseemben and Gauri ben who helped us have a better understanding about social work.
Out of all my experiences at AWAG, it was incredible to go and do the field work. We were given a form and were divided into groups of two. We then went to two major grass root level communities and collected the information as asked by our trainer. Sometimes we went to houses of Dalit women and sometimes Muslim women. We later had to make a brief comparison about living conditions, psycho-socio behaviour, etc between the two communities. All this apart, but doing this gave me immense satisfaction and a lot of learning. Until now, I had never gone into the core. I had only read or watched on television about the life of slum. But this experience change my perception altogether.
Seeing women making Agarbattis for hours together and getting wages as low as Rs 17/- per day, made my skin crawl. I tried to be friendly with all the women whose houses I visited and I wanted to know about them, about their lives and lifestyle as much as possible. Later when I had to write the report about the differences, I did not struggle. The points came to me automatically, something like I knew them so well and understood them so deeply.
Another thing, that I learned and enjoyed taking part in at AWAG was the “pop-up” shops. We were again divided in groups and we conducted these small stalls in our local residences. We were successful in selling many of the AWAG products and in raising money for women at AWAG’s short-stay home.
My overall experience at AWAG is a very memorable one. I think it was really a wise decision to choose AWAG from all the options. I have lot of things to take back to my colleagues, and more than that, my perception towards a non-government organisation has altered. I feel more respect for this field now and feel glad that I am going to make a career in social work. Even after this internship I look forward to volunteering for AWAG. I would take pride in working for women in need, and like they say, every step further serves a purpose.
Nalini Ben’s Story
Nalini ben is from Savrastra, a very backward area. She explained that the society there is extremely conservative, and people are entrenched into social customs. Since childhood she excelled in her studies…’ I was always top of the class’. Even so, Nalini ben always thought she would be a housewife. It was her husband that pushed her into teaching, and her students that gradually built up her confidence in teaching. Now she could not imagine being in any other profession.
Nalini ben was teaching at HK Arts college where she met Ila ben Pathak (AWAG founder). She explains, ‘I had so many questions in my mind whilst I was growing up to which nobody could give me an answer. It was only after meeting Ila ben that my questions were answered. She answered all my questions about life, and then we became friends.’…‘In the 1980’s when I was pregnant with my daughter, Ila ben always discussed with me the idea of AWAG. I remember we discussed the name, the concept and then in 1981 it was started.’
Most memorable event at AWAG
‘In 1994 Ila ben phoned me and said “Nalini, would you like to come to Bhavngar for police training?”. I had to take one class only, but I watched many of the other. In one of the sessions, one male police officer stood up and said “there is no need for counselor in the police station”. Ila ben then explained that the role of Counselor and the role of a Police Man is different. “The way that police counsel her is in the same way that neighbors, relatives and friends do.” Then a female officer stood up and said to the male officer ‘”remember that time you counseled a girl and went home, you were bragging about how you had helped her, and then she committed suicide after 10 days”. Ila ben again repeated “that is why the counselors role is different, so please I urge to to refrain from counselling any ladies coming into the police station.” The female police officer then went on to recall another two or three incidents when the same thing had happened, whilst the male police officer began crying and accepted responsibility for the incidents. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I remember Ila ben’s strength in delivering her point, how there was so much emotion in that room, and how the whole room shifted their views about the topic of counselling.’
‘I have been working on a research project with the University of Lincoln. We have been looking at the type of invisible violence that occurs when women are abandoned after marriage by non-residential Indian men. We have theorised this as a “new type of violence”. When women get injured through domestic violence, it is possible to complain and show bruises, but when women are abandoned and cannot fulfill their marital rights, they are left hopeless. There is also no law at present to stop this transnational marriage abandonment. Alongside AWAG’s goal, and my own research expertise, I took this project on board. It will be published soon.’