Empowering Women Series – Chanderi Weavers and Gender Diversity

All of us recognize the importance of gender diversity &women empowerment. The question that needs to be asked is: what are we doing to promote it? The beautiful Chanderi fabric which had for centuries been worn by royalty found itself to be no longer a favoured textile. The situation made worse by middlemen and traders who garnered a master share of earnings left the poor weaver with next to nothing. A private-public initiative helped women weavers to not only reinvent designs and styles but helped them to become entrepreneurs in command of their own future.

handloom-school-2For centuries Chanderi, situated in the Ashok Nagar district of India’s largest state has been the hotbed for weaving. Chanderi textiles were patronized initially by the Mughals and later by the Scindias.

In this town of 30,000 people, about one third of the population is from the weaving community, which includes both Hindus and Muslims. But the weaving community began facing trouble when the market for their traditional product — Chanderi sarees — started declining. Also as most of the weavers were contractual workers, they had no control over the production process and falling capacity utilization.

Resultantly, their earning capacity began to suffer as the master weavers and traders cornered all the benefits and gave them nominal incomes. This is when the 30 odd women weavers got together to form ‘Bunkar Vikas Sanstha’ under the aegis of United Nations Industrial Development Programme. Since the time of its inception this Sanstha has already sold goods worth Rs 8.3 million even as they continue to get more orders.

imagesOwing to this business, BVS was able to give 10 to 15 per cent extra wages to their weavers and even the profits were distributed amongst them. “The programme was started as an experiment if the development of this artisan cluster could alleviate poverty. However it has not only generated income but also empowered women to take their decisions. Empower the weavers not only through income generation but also empower them to take their own decision.”

Under BVS, the women shelved the existing weaver-master weaver, weaver-trader and weaver-retailer relationship and created new production relationships where they themselves became entrepreneurs and managed everything. “After the formation of our Sanstha, we source our own raw material and even market it and take all decisions on our own,” says Muzaffar Jahan, another member of BVS.

Weaving-980x500-chanderiheritage.in_1The project also facilitated an interaction between these women weavers and some designers from National Institute of Technology and National Institute of Design who shared their experiences with the rural women and “helped” them to improvise their designs.

In addition to this, they also struck business deals with Fab India, known as one of the biggest handloom and handicraft-marketing organization in urban India. “Fab India gave us tips on how to modify our products so that they suit the interests of Europe and other Western countries. They give us bulk orders for various products, right from dressing material to cushion covers. They are our biggest market. Fab India’s subsidiary company has an office in Chanderi that procures materials from us,” says Batti Bai, another weaver.

Women-and-cybercafes-in-the-hinterlandToday BVS, comprising 30 women has an executive committee of 19 members that take all major decisions regarding business. “We are glad that we have rid ourselves of the traders and retailers now. We share the profits that the Sanstha earns. Earlier our skills were almost wasted as these middle-men would mint all the money. Also, we were short of work and we had a low income. We couldn’t save any money. But now we have expanded our markets, are getting regular work and have a better income. Things have changed,” says Muzaffar.