Marginalized Women Toil and Labor at All Costs To Support their Families

Date: Jan 14, 2016

Despite frequent glowing media stories about India shining, digitization and IT-enabled cities which are true and show progress in many ways, there still continues to be a ferocious underbelly which encompasses many women workers who have to earn a living to support their families. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, women who are desperate to earn an income, resort to participating in the informal sector, rolling out “Beedi (biri)”, or hand rolled cigarettes. They earn a bare bones daily income with earnings in the range of Rupees 100 – 130 per day which is approximately $2/day. These earnings are highly dependent on the quantum of work they can successfully procure. There are days when they cannot find work which exacerbates life considerably for them and their families.

Mumtaz, a beedi worker from Rae Bareilly aged 43, has worked in the Beedi industry, and she describes their current living pattern as “next to hell.” Every day, she rolls hundreds of little cigarettes known as ‘Beedi’. She is paid Rs. 50 per thousand beedis rolled which she accomplishes in two days. Yet, at the time of final payment to the workers, around 30% of their payment is deducted on account of non-conforming products. This story is true for all the workers in Rae Bareilly. The work is monotonous and pays barely enough for their basic necessities, but worst of all, it is hazardous to their own health and also to the health of those around them.

The research conducted by the Lucknow Mahila SEWA Trust, found that many of the beedi workers were suffering from chronic diseases – pertaining to their lungs, heart and cancer. Fatima, a beedi worker narrated her health ordeals. After 40 years of working in the beedi industry, she is now rewarded with complaints of chest pain and nausea. Due to the lack of funds, she and others cannot afford to support themselves medically. She prays that her daughters and granddaughters be lucky enough to find alternative means of livelihood. At this juncture, a lack of alternative work options forces marginalized women to continue being locked in to the beedi making industry. The lack of options forces women to work under these untenable conditions because they lack alternative options to support their income generation.

The reality is that Indian women who subsist at poverty level must earn a living and contribute to the general household income. While most Indian families are dedicated to supporting the education of their young sons, the girls are often neglected due to the lack of adequate financial resources – which is a gigantic set back for the girls who also need to be educated. Favoring sons over daughters for an education is the Indian norm which ultimately results in disadvantages for their daughters. Girls need as much education as the boys do – but this is not typically the norm in low income Indian families who need to prioritize family income.

The Lucknow Mahila SEWA Trust has focused on economically enabling women to stand on their own two feet. This immediately produces a marvelous result: the women who now are trained in acquiring marketable skills through their apprenticeship in SEWA get reasonably well paying jobs. The immediate impact is evident as mothers jump to enroll their daughters in school. This is critically important because in traditional societies, typically fathers are only interested to support the education of their sons who they believe will be the breadwinners. Over time, this attitudinal favoritism of the boy child will fade – as mothers work to acquire skill sets and jobs, recognizing the value of education for their daughters as well. Working mothers know in their bones that their daughters need both an education and an income. They also know in their gut that investing in education is the cornerstone of their daughter’s future earnings and happiness.

The trainings conducted for marginalized women to become wage earners at a decent level will impart key skill sets for women who earn a living. With women in the work force, family income can easily double, adding greater financial security for the family unit. Women in the work force are viewed as an asset – and not a liability – adding economic security for the family’s well being. Women who earn a living are very willing to support their daughters’ education. Ultimately, this leads to a more balanced society of men and women who can navigate more strategic options for their children – both boys and girls. Education is a critical ingredient for the long term success of children on the personal front but also in terms of their future opportunities for education and job options. Equal opportunities to education, while changing their perspectives on other socio-economic issues ranging from literacy to the environment – are the new gateways to their futures as citizens.

Invest in Muslim Women supports women’s practical trainings in embroidery, fashion design and manufacturing for women. The women gain marketable skill sets which leads to a more secure livelihood and the resources to educate their daughters. Our NGO, Invest in Muslim Women has been supporting these training’s since 2013 giving women a passport to a better life for themselves and resources to educate their daughters.

We are just the funders. The real credit for this goes to Farida Jalees, Secretary of the Lucknow Mahila Sewa Trust. Farida is the inspiration, the brain, the heart and the soul of this program. It is her dreams and her tenacity that takes unskilled women and turns them into skilled practitioners who can then make a reasonable living.

A key factor of income generation is that employed mothers support their daughters’ educations and maybe even their dreams down the road. Strong working mothers can be role models. They can inspire, support and make a quantum difference in the lives, dreams and achievements of their daughters at home, in the work place and in their communities.