Wage earners to business owners

Changing lifestyle, infusing confidence


The transformation of these women  is mind-boggling. Earlier their  movements were traditionally restricted, but  now they go on trips out of town. They had to go by diktats of the husband and in-laws, but are now decision-makers. These women who worked on a daily wage, mostly at home, are now “business owners” drawing profits apart from earning their daily wage which is two or three times higher than before.

This is the story of some  Muslim women in the Old City of Hyderabad who, with the guidance of the civil society organization Mahila Sanatkar, are creating waves in their own lives and society.  As Ali Asghar, CEO of Roshan Vikas Foundation which mentors Mahila Sanatkar, says: “The entire life-cycle planning of these women has changed. They now are saying I can send my daughter to college or I can buy a plot of land…they are stakeholders in the business,” he said.

Mahila Sanatkar which has been working for the past 10 years or so with home-based women tailors doing piece-rate jobs for local traders, has  mobilized the women to help them generate additional income.

About three years ago it realized that the women remained at the level of  wage workers although they were being trained and provided regular work both at home and at the production-cum-office near Charminar in the Old City of Hyderabad. The women were in reality skilled artisans, proficient in not mere tailoring but experts in zari that is embroidery with thread and zardozi that is embroidery with zari or gold thread which is a special skill that has been handed down for generations, from mother to daughter in
Muslim households.  

Role of women workers

So, in the process of rethinking, Mahila Sanatkar decided to scale up the role of women workers as partners in their business ventures. They now own their own production; they invest in raw material, take responsibility for quality control and ensure timely delivery through time management. They also sit on consultations with the clients, discuss their needs and participate in price negotiation. When the payment comes in, the profit goes directly to the women. Mahila Sanatkar now limits itself to providing market linkages, services of cutting and designing in accordance with client requirements  and taking the responsibility for packing, despatching and billing.

Mahila Sanatkar encourages women, especially those with leadership qualities to set up a neighbourhood “producer groups” to tap the talent in the area. For instance, the Unique Arts-N-Handicrafts in Shaheen Nagar, about 6 km from Charminar, is run by the go-getter group leader Ameena (35). She was encouraged to start the group since women found it difficult to travel to the central office of Mahila Sanatkar. After training women, the group delivered at least five orders. The first one was worth Rs 20,000 for 250 cushion covers.

The latest order is worth Rs 50,000 for 360 girls’ kurtas for a leading retail outlet. Eight women have invested taking loan s with the help of Roshan Vikas Foundation which acts as a facilitator with a commercial bank.

While at least 50 trained women are registered with her centre, there are  another 500-odd  women who need work. Ameena faces three problems: one, to din into the women workers the need to ensure quality –“New City quality versus Old City quality” she calls it.

Enough orders

Two, get enough orders to ensure there is no break in the work; and three, get payment from the client promptly. If there is a  “long gap” then there is the danger of the women workers going elsewhere to find work which is low paid but puts some food on the table. “Our women are too poor to wait for work and payments.

In a manner of speaking, they begin to dig the well when they get thirsty. They don’t have the luxury of having a well to draw water whenever they get thirsty,” said Ameena succinctly summarizing the plight of these women workers.

She needs  at least four orders on hand to ensure that there is no gap or break in employment Ameena, however, is confident the centre will succeed. She has therefore taken a loan of Rs one lakh and is planning to upgrade the facilities by getting power sewing machines, embroidery machines, steam iron and so on.

Ameena plans to start literacy classes too for women at her centre as she believes education is very important. “Only then a woman will have control over her life. And if she is skilled, she can earn and maintain her family even if her husband deserts her, she said.
Rizwana Khatoon (33) is a living example of how her skill and investment in Mahila Sanatkar’s business have brought her returns that keep her family of five children in relative comfort. A mother of five deserted by her husband, she found refuge in Mahila Sanatkar.

She can do “anything and everything” connected with tailoring. She has invested in two orders so far after taking a bank loan and has made enough profits to proclaim “I am able to meet the needs of my family…I can easily maintain my children now.”  She lives in a room rented in a house of her brothers so that her children will have the benefit of the influence of male family members. So does she plan to buy a house considering her business is successful? “ I cannot buy a house. I am focusssing on my children’s education.
I don’t want them to be dependent,” she said. Her eldest daughter who is in college wants to be an air-hostess. Rizwana knows the feeling and she will put no obstacle n her daughter’s flight to freedom.

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