A space of her own

A space of her own

Emerging: Safehands 24x7 promises a future to all the directionless womenfolk in Hubbali district; Shravani Pawar with her team; Safehands 24x7 women workers.

Five years back, 33-year-old Suma Chaluwadi (name changed), in Haliyal taluk found herself in a helpless state. She and her family members used to work in the fields but due to drought, they could hardly earn something. Now, this Class 6 dropout has a job which pays her enough to lead a decent life. She even saved some money and bought a two-wheeler to ease the daily commuting hassle. Suma, who is fluent in Kannada, has also learnt English and Hindi to a fair level and communicates with confidence.

Asha Dattunavar, another young woman from Unkal near Hubballi, packs lunch boxes for her kids before helping her parents and husband with daily chores every morning. Quickly changing into a clean uniform, she combs her hair into a neat bun and sets off to work.

The story of Ranjana Honyal is no different. She lost her husband 10 years ago with three daughters to be taken care of. Being uneducated and unskilled professionally, she hardly had a job option to sustain the family. But today, her daughters go to college and Ranjana dreams a bright future for them.

Starting from scratch

All these women are associated with Safe Hands 24X7, a social enterprise in Hubballi, which trains and provides jobs to women as security guards and housekeeping staff. In fact, Safe Hands is the first company in North Karnataka to develop an exclusive force of female security guards.

“I have received recognition as a woman entrepreneur who began from scratch and is now the head of a company with 700 staff. But the credit of my achievement goes to the women who work with me. They are the real change-makers.

Coming from communities where women not wearing sari or chudidars with dupattas attracts criticism, they today work as confident security guards and housekeepers wearing uniforms (shirt and pant), and lead a socially empowered and economically independent life,” said Shravani Pawar, the brain behind Safe Hands 24X7.

Shravani and these rural women had to put equal efforts to build Safe Hands. Shravani was studying Bachelors in Social Work in Dharwad when she worked on a project in the rural areas and met farmers and self-help groups. She felt that women need to be made economically independent. But later, when she pursued a six-month course in social
entrepreneurship at Deshpande Foundation in Hubballi and conducted a market research survey, she realised that financial independence was not enough for women and they still did not have the freedom to take major decisions.

Shravani along with her friends explored options of setting up a co-operative bank or a handicraft unit. As the discussions progressed, ideas evolved and Shravani’s persistence to do something different resulted in the conceptualisation of a female security service in 2009.

However, convincing women to come out of the comfort zone and work in a male-dominated profession was the main challenge before Shravani and her team of nine members. “We visited various nearby villages and placed ads in the media asking interested women to join our force. Initially, the response was not encouraging. Gradually, the pace picked up,” she said.

Women were taught basics like responsibilities of the security staff, time management, maintenance of visitor information, the importance of uniform, personal hygiene, alertness, communication skills, physical fitness, emotional stability, self-defence and other aspects.

Later, they were given on-the-job training and placed as security guards and housekeeping staff at malls, educational institutions, offices and other establishments. These women from rural areas adapted well to the situation and grew confident and professional. Presently, the company offers services in Hubballi, Belagavi, Ballari, Gadag, Haveri, Raichur and other places.

That apart, convincing the companies about the capability of female security guards was also tough. They were first asked to avail the services for a month and then continue if they were satisfied with the work. But the women guards have proved their mettle. Later, the company expanded and even employed men for similar jobs. But Shravani said there is no gender discrimination in terms of work and pay.

In safe hands

At this moment another challenge emerged. The male guards showed indifference to working with a woman entrepreneur and female guards as colleagues. They were purposely irregular at work. At this juncture, female guards worked overtime and supported Shravani. Also, Shravani feels that women guards and housekeepers respond to situations better.

Today, most of these rural women take pride in being security guards. They feel that the profession has made them more confident and efficient in handling any crisis, be it professional or personal. “My personality changed completely the day I wore this uniform. Earlier, my heart used to beat faster when I used to see some patients on deathbed when I was posted to guard a hospital. But then, I was counselled and slowly, I became emotionally stronger. This strength helped me in my personal life too,” said Suma.

Asha, who was recently honoured by the students of the college where she works, said that students showed her enough love and respect.

Way forward, Shravani, a mother of two toddlers, wishes to set up a short stay home for women workers in Hubballi. She feels that each woman is blessed with talents and must make maximum use of it. “We should not restrict ourselves to preconceived notions and must just focus on what we want to achieve rather than discussing problems we have been facing,” Shravani said.

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