I have spent the last week in Jaipur, away from my home in Delhi.
A quick run-down on the places we have visited in Jaipur:
Barefoot College is a vocational school for women, where women who are often from rural areas come to learn complex and impressive skills. Of its programs, the “Solar Mamas” are women who are studying solar engineering in order to go back and bring solar power to their communities. We entered a room to speak to the “mamas”, and encountered women from Myanmar, Peru, Turkey, and a variety of other countries. I had the chance to speak to one of the Turkish women, who explained that she wanted to bring solar power to Syrian refugee camps. I flipped through the engineering manual and was astounded by the complex directions and knowledge conveyed in pictures and diagrams, due to illiteracy and language barriers.
Jaipur rugs provides employment to rural women through placing looms in their villages. The women have woven extraordinary rugs that are then sold for the equivalent of thousands of US dollars. The Jaipur Rugs Foundation gives 40 percent of its total profits towards the salaries of the women.
Jaipur Foot provides prosthetic legs free of charge to anyone who comes in in need. 60 to 70 people are provided prosthetic limbs each day, and the materials used are inexpensive. For example, the plastic used to make the limbs is simply from melted irrigation pipes. The founder made it clear that he would never charge money for beneficiaries. These are direct quotes from our conversation with him:
“We get money because we don’t charge”
“We help people, we get help”
“Appreciation does not go up with the payment of money”
The founder of Vividya came to speak with us. She has created a newspaper to provide a forum for issues associated with gender inequality and gender violence. She expressed that the mainstream media had not done an adequate job at publishing stories that were for the whole population, but rather the news was for the privileged and those with high social status. Publishing stories raised awareness to issues, which has brought collective gatherings and needed protests to push for change. Women from all areas submit stories to be published, and the program also runs empowerment program for women. The programs focus on discussing personal experiences of women and creating situational action plans that the women can use when faced with an issue they are experiencing directly. The program also analyzes news articles, songs, and idioms, and facilitates discussion on gender, violence, patriarchy, government and development. The empowerment programs also incorporate discussions with men.
I had the amazing opportunity of serendipitously meeting a women in a café at a table I sat down at who immediately engaged my friend and I in conversation. It turned out that she is a social entrepreneur, who runs a micro loan organization. I discussed empowerment programs with her extensively, and she made it clear that the change has to start “bottom-up”, meaning that women must come together and support each other, and the change must start on a micro-level with changed attitudes and support. She made it clear that often women are the breadwinners of their households, so any program that helps women be able to support themselves and send their children to school is beneficial. Therefore, the tailoring and beautician programs which I analyzed critically in my last post are rather necessary,
When it comes to empowerment models, I believe Vividya is absolutely golden. The program addresses structural inequality and changes attitudes. It operates on a macro-level and a micro-level simultaneously. It does not ignore structural inequality, and its able to work on multiple levels through addressing direct experience and planning action. It is an empowerment program that is really giving women more power.