Brighter Stories of Women in India

February 04, 2013

Recently, India has garnered international attention with the devastating news of the rape (and later death) of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi. Despite the Indian government’s flawed sexual assault and harassment laws, there are organizations, communities, and companies out there that are making a difference in the lives of Indian women. One such organization is the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, whose work I had the privilege of seeing firsthand on my recent travels to India.

Women weavers in India

I arrived in Delhi on December 28, just a week after the terrible incident. During my travels, I visited a number of organizations. The first was the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, a nonprofit branch of Jaipur Rugs, a company that manufactures rugs produced by women in rural India.

The Jaipur Rugs Foundation visit was twofold. The first day I visited a rural village in northern Jaipur, where we saw women of the village working in their homes on huge weaving mills to produce the rugs Americans see every day at stores like Kmart and Crate and Barrel. We visited the classrooms that the foundation had established in the villages for women to learn basic literacy skills such as counting money. I saw two of the most prominent women weavers in the village, who were able to send both of their children to private school on their 1,000 rupee ($100) monthly salary. The next day I sat down with the founder and CEO of the organization, N. K. Chaudhary, and heard his thoughts on the importance of women’s empowerment and social responsibility.

Taaj with children

Student Advisory Council member Taaj Reaves with children in India

When Chaudhary first began Jaipur Rugs, he worked as an artisan with rural villagers. He noticed that the women were much more efficient than the men at work and formed the cornerstone of every household — making sure the children were in school and their bellies full. At the same time, he also saw many women being taken advantage of because they could not count, read, or write. Hence, a core value of the Jaipur Rugs Foundation is women’s empowerment through education in rural communities that provides women with financial independence and self-esteem. Because India is still a very patriarchal society, I questioned Chaudhary about how the men in rural villages typically view the newfound independence of their wives and daughters. He responded that the men see it as economic independence for the family. A dollar earned is still a dollar earned — and one more that can contribute to a family that is living below the poverty line.

It is true that there are many places in the world where discriminatory policies make it more beneficial to be a man than a woman, but there will always be people out there who want to change that. People like Chaudhary and all of the women working on behalf of the Jaipur Rugs Foundation make me believe that change is possible. This semester I will be working toward women’s development as an intern with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, and I look forward to supporting and contributing to those who are making positive change for the progress of women.

AAUW also works to support change through International Project Grants, which fund community-based projects focused on empowering women and girls.

This post was written Taaj Reaves, whose participation in the National Student Advisory Council is sponsored by Loryann Eis of AAUW of Illinois.

By:   |   February 04, 2013

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