Sabramem is a bandej worker, mother of three, SEWA aagewan, and most importantly, an active role model for women everywhere regardless of class, caste, or religion. Sabramem is engaging in two SEWA skill-building courses to enhance her capacity to be financially independent and open her own business. Sabramem is also benefitting through the SEWA Shakti Kendra’s social security support system for poor working-women.
Pooja, 23, comes from a struggling community in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, but she has managed to get training, a job placement, and earn a steady monthly salary in a local beauty parlour through SEWA Bharat’s SYRC (SEWA Youth Resource Center).
She went to university in Ajmer, Rajasthan, and after successfully graduating with a Bachelors of Arts; she went to live with her in-laws. While it is tradition for girls to begin taking over the house after marriage, Pooja wanted to work in beauty culture. To excel, Pooja knew she needed to undertake further training, but faced many barriers to moving ahead. Not only did her in-laws deny her support, but even more inhibitive were the costs that the majority of institutes were charging – up to Rs. 15,000.
Through SEWA outreach, Pooja came to know about the SEWA Youth Resource Center’s (SYRC) diverse and affordable skill building classes. The SYRC offers poor adolescent girls the opportunity to develop marketable skills that make them ready for employment. The center’s quality teachers also help girls enhance soft skills like spoken English, personality development, and time-management that make girls more competitive and ready for the real world. Pooja was able to convince her in-laws that the course would not only help her, but also benefit the entire family.
Pooja enrolled in the beauty culture course at the SYRC. She learned practical skills and developed the confidence to visit local beauty parlors and see how work happens. Pooja says, “After visiting other parlors, I had lots of questions about the machines they use. I was able to ask my teacher at the SYRC and get answers to all my questions.” She says that the support and “love” that she found from her mentors and peers was extremely motivating and unlike what she had experienced in any schooling.
The SYRC also sets girls up with local job placements. SEWA grassroots leaders connected Pooja with a job at Grace Spa and Saloon, a beauty parlor five minutes walk away from the SYRC. Pooja says that she felt “well prepared” for the position, and says that in particular, “the SYRC training in facials and waxing was the most useful in the job.”
Perhaps most importantly, Pooja’s employer, Rasha Singh, is happy with the quality of girls coming out of the SYRC beauty-training program. She says that, “The girls have a very good nature. They do good work and do not say, ‘I can’t or won’t do it’.” Mrs. Singh, who has been in the business for 13 years, has had employees before that would steal from her and this is why she decided to hire from SEWA Bharat. Mrs. Singh said that “SEWA Bharat is an NGO you can trust, so I hired girls from there. Before I was hiring them from private companies, but they stole beauty products, [particularly] at one exhibition she held.” Mrs. Singh was so supportive of the course that she agreed to come in expert training to the other students to help prepare them for employment, said that she would “hire girls from the [SEWA Bharat] program again.”
Pooja is earning Rs. 2,500 per month and hopes to open a beauty parlor of her own. Of this money, she gives Rs. 1,000 to her in-laws, keeps Rs. 500 for her monthly expenditure, and saves the final Rs. 1,000 for her future. Pooja says, “The only thing else I want to say, is that girls need to have skills in their hand. Girls should be independent.” Pooja is a role model in her community, and despite the many barriers she has faced, is on-track to pursuing her dreams.
Sitara, a Ruaab SEWA home-based worker, says,
“Since working for SEWA, I feel like I am able to express myself.”
On top of poor living conditions, economic stability is precarious and exploitative employment is the norm. Sitara’s husband, Nasir, found work as a daily wage laborer, but while expenses were regular, his work was not. Sitara needed to find a way to support her husband and four children. However, like many village women, Sitara had barely any schooling and no formal job training. She began embroidery work for irregular contractors who would pay her low piece rates. Despite supplementing the family’s income, Sitara found that her family was still suffering.
In 2005, SEWA Bharat opened a center for women embroidery workers. SEWA outreach workers approached Sitara about joining the center, but faced a common list of problems encountered when organizing poor women: the women’s lack of confidence, fear, and skepticism. Without training and education, poor informal women workers are frozen in the shadows of the mainstream market.
SEWA’s grassroots empowerment model helps given women like Sitara role models, confidence, and opportunities. Sitara joined SEWA’s embroidery center and began to earn a fair rate for her embroidery work – more than double what contractors paid. Sitara now supplements her family’s income by Rs. 2,500-3,000 per month. Sitara is also a shareholder in SEWA’s embroidery cooperative called the SEWA Ruaab Artisans Company. Sitara has tapped into SEWA’s diverse development activities and has three savings accounts in SEWA Delhi’s Thrift and Credit Cooperative.
Sitara’s advancement extends beyond economical and financial improvements; she now is confident and empowered. Sitara says, “Since working for SEWA, I feel like I am able to express myself.”
By building women’s leadership and connecting them to finance and skill building, SEWA Bharat enables women to make positive changes in their communities. SEWA members have brought local impacts through advocacy campaigns. In 2013, members in Dehradun successfully advocated for cleaner public restrooms.