A young lady stood in the middle of a circle of around 30 women. Her body appeared mummified with dupattas wrapped around her, covering her head, eyes, ears, mouth, chest, stomach, hands and feet. The exercise started with a listing of what the ladies thought were the qualities that symbolised a woman. An inability to make their own decisions, see what they want to see, speak what they want to speak, marry who they want to marry, hear what they want to hear, do what they want to do, have children when they want to, walk where they want to. As each part of the body was covered, the end result appeared to be a dead person. Dramatically, a white sheet was thrown on top of the lady.
A very powerful way of enabling the women assembled to re think their identity, their own role in society and most importantly, themselves. As each duppatta was removed, they spoke of freedom and liberation from today’s oppressive society.
Earlier this week I had the honour of being part of Grampari’s Ladies’ Programme and I was inspired to write a small piece about it.
Having started 5 years, ago this group began with 10 ladies from a neighbouring village, Godavali, today it has grown to a 55 member group with ladies coming from Dandegar, Panchgani, Abheypuri as well as Godavli. The group started meeting at Grampari essentially to exchange ideas, learn practical things but also to understand more about Initiative of Change.
Shubhangi Autade, our Livelihoods Programme Coordinator conducts these meetings along with Executive Director of Grampari, Jayashree Rao.
We’ve had sessions on personality development, training about Panchayat Raj, nutrition, sessions on Self Help Groups and casteism. Speakers are regularly invited from IofC to talk to the women.
Vocational training is one of our key programmes where we’ve taught the ladies to make cloth and paper bags, folders, painting of diyas, paper jewellery. Most of these products are sold through Grampari, usually when guests and participants at a programme at the main campus come down to Grampari. We are slowly developing a market outside of AP as well. All profits are equally shared, Grampari takes 5% of the profits which in turn is plugged back into the women’s programme. The profits are usually pooled together to replenish raw material. Each woman can make up to Rs 2,500/month. Apart from making money, we’ve found that this has a profound impact on their self-confidence and leadership skills.
Reacting to a demand raised by the women, Grampari also acts as an unofficial savings bank where each woman deposits Rs50 per month for safe keeping here.
A universal issue faced by all the women who attend these meetings relates to relationships for which we provide very detailed sessions which involves a time for reflection (Quiet Time) and a time for sharing. Our feedback from these sessions is that it helps vent their frustrations, where in the past this would be taken out on their children. Sharing their troubles also means that they come together to find common solutions to the problems they face.
One of the key features of this meeting is to imbibe the women with ideas of Initiatives of Change. Quiet time forms a key part of every meeting. A topic is chosen before hand and the women sit together in reflection and then discuss issues. A lot of women have taken many admirable steps of change.
NEELAM MANDRE, Sarpanch, Abheypuri
Prior to her visit to Grampari, Neelam was a Sarpanch only in name. All decisions about the village was done through her husband, primarily because she had little knowledge about the workings of a Panchayat. However, she learnt about Panchayati Raj from us and managed to go back to her village and operate as a more informed Sarpanch. Her interest has deepened and she has begun making a substantial impact on her villages’ development.
VAISHALI, Gram Panchayat Member, Godavli
Much like Neelam, Vaishali had no idea about the Panchayat and had limited leadership skills or confidence. Trainning at Grampari has enabled her to take a more active involvement in the Panchayat. In fact, she went above and beyond by taking leadership to solve the vilage’s drinking water problem. A problem that had plagued the village for innumerable years. The village now has easy access to drinking water using some solutions that Grampari provided.