Needling your way to Empowerment

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In patriarchal societies, a woman’s lack of self-confidence is not often recognized as a major stumbling block for women to create a positive change for their families and communities.  The patriarch of the family tends to make the decisions for the family leaving their wives to become shy and unsure of themselves and their daughters to expect nothing more.  It is well documented that an appreciation of one’s own abilities and qualities leads to a feeling of self-assurance and confidence.   When women become confident in their power to affect change, their willingness to take initiatives increases. This has been a salient feature of the Ruaab SEWA project in Delhi, India.

Ruaab is a garment production company owned and managed by craftswomen from the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) empowering over 350 Delhi artisan women to join the SoCCs (Social Capital Credits) program. In partnership with Asia Initiatives, Ruaab SEWA incentivizes women to earn SoCCs credits for timeliness and the quality of their work.   Additional credits may be earned by opening bank accounts, vaccinating their children to reduce infant mortality rates, and sending their children to school. The women may redeem their iSoCCs for solar lights for their homes, tutoring services, and sanitary supplies to promote home cleanliness. Meanwhile, the entire community may redeem CommSoCCs for recreational activities and group insurance.

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Women keep track of the activities they’ve done, as well as SoCCs earned and redeemed in booklets. The image above shows a page from one of the women’s books.

The main goal of the project has been to create a self-sustainable change in the lives of the Ruaab artisans’ families by implementing the Social Credit linked loyalty system (SoCCs).

My mother, Mrs. Swati Gaur has been actively involved in monitoring and supporting the project as a member of the AI Board of Advisors. Participating women have met with her on several of her trips to the centers and have been very eager to share their experiences regarding the SoCCs program. They emphasized the effect that the SoCCs program has had in enhancing their sense of self-sufficiency and that Ruaab has helped them to become independent earning women.   

Most of the participants in the program have low literacy proficiency, in the future, SoCCs will also be available for teaching others how to read and write. This could potentially create a more exciting and collaborative environment, and provide women a comfortable environment for learning and discussing important issues with their peers.  SoCCs is also a motivation for women to be more assertive and confident, especially those who want to see change around them but are shy to speak up. These women are now more comfortable to come forward to raise the issues as well as work for social causes, if only to earn the extra SoCCS. There has been an active involvement in mohalla (community) meetings regarding hygiene and cleanliness issues, and SEWA has assisted the women involved to draft petition letters. As a result of this, the local government authorities have installed a garbage dumpster in the area due to several requests from the community.

Artisans have also become more self-reliant and financially independent through opening of accounts in the cooperative. Most of the participating women have realized the importance of cleanliness, and some of them have undertaken self-help group initiatives to keep their community clean. Children of artisans have enrolled in schools and attend regularly to earn SoCCs, which is verified via field checks by the Ruaab Team. In addition to an improved production quality, the timely deliveries and production capacity of the team has also improved.

As part of our next steps, AI is preparing to start five Knowledge Centers. The Knowledge Centers will initially hold classes for women who are interested in learning to use a computer, but it will eventually expand to include all participants. The menu is still in the process of development, but SoCCs could be earned for attending classes and practice sessions- as well as helping others to learn. The main goal of SoCCs is to improve financial possibilities, health (physical and emotional) as well as education and safety of the women, so redemption points in the menus will include health checkups, reproductive rights education and other hygiene related action items.

Measuring intangible change through tangible metrics is always challenging. Ruaab SEWA and AI are working together to come up with a measuring unit to monitor the changes in communities. Before and after data for community involvement and cleanliness photos have been suggested as a good starting point. Even though this is in progress, the initial conversations with participants make it evident that the women are more excited to be involved and take charge of their own health and education, eventually becoming stakeholders in their own success!

-Ishita Gaur (Jr. Board Co-Chair) and Swati Gaur

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