Breaking Stereotypes

The world over, the demand for absolute gender equality has never been stronger. Global marches and campaigns, especially the #MeToo & #TimesUp movements, have drawn attention to distressing stories of sexual harassment and issues like gender pay gap and poor representation of women in leadership roles.

From our experience, women have always been instrumental in driving socio-economic change in various roles – as funders, CEOs, innovators, social workers, community leaders, teachers or mothers. This International Women’s Day, we showcase a few stories from our engagement with companies and onground partners, that demonstrate a woman’s true potential as a harbinger of change. In these snippets, women are the heroes of their own stories, defying stereotypes, achieving their idea of success and inspiring others around them.

Stereotype No. 1 – Women are risk-averse

Sitamma’s family is made up of her husband and their son.  Their monthly income comes from their cattle farming, her tailoring and the husband’s construction work.

Being an enterprising lady, she took the risk of turning an additional resource into a business opportunity!

Sitamma had some extra fodder at hand and she decided to rear a cow temporarily. This was during a drought period when most people were selling their cattle. She bought a local breed which would eat this type of fodder and reared it for the 5 months the fodder lasted. She sold the milk from the cow to a private dairy nearby and increased the household income by approximately 50 per cent during the period. Sitamma created forward and backward linkages without knowing about such concepts.

When she sold the cow at the end of 5 months, she did it at a profit 20 per cent. One can only imagine how enterprising and innovative she would be with more resources at hand!

Stereotype No. 2 – Women don’t have a mind for business 

Sneha bai’s entrepreneurial journey began with a tragedy – her husband’s death. Having no land to her name and having never worked before, she had to urgently look for an income avenue to support her two children and herself.

She took an ‘income generation’ loan from an SHG she was part of and began buying bangles in bulk from Ahmednagar. She began selling them at a premium of INR 20 in her village. She knew that people, given a choice would not want to travel far, an hour plus, for such an item. Her market savviness made this a profitable endeavour. She now earns an average of INR 1,000 per month from this, and sometimes five times this during wedding and festivities seasons.

Being an ambitious entrepreneur, she decided to start two more business verticals – stitching blouses and jewellery making. She earns an average of INR 2,000 a month from these. Her business works on word of mouth and she travels to nearby communities to sell her bangles, jewellery and blouses during festivities. She says such travelling is profitable.

Stereotype No. 3 – Women cannot be leaders 

In the interiors of Rajasthan, a group of women were fed up by the caste squabbles among the men on the Village Development Committee. They needed a pipe connection to the village, as the drought had aggravated the water scarcity in the area.The women were being forced to walk hours to get water for basic household needs.

As part of a self-help group, the women had begun negotiating more freedom and decision making power within the community. They felt confident of being able to tackle this new challenge together. These motivated women put together a proposal for a pipeline and championed it before the Panchayat. They were met with success and the Panchayat disbursed funds and installed a pipeline in the village!

Buoyed by their success, they are now turning their collective eye to the development of the village. “Before, we did not have the ability or the authority to think about such matters, but now we can as part of the group”

Stereotype No 4 – Women cannot do hard labour, its a man’s job

Manisha is a strong believer in following your dreams, and she went after hers with single-minded focus.

Manisha first gained an interest in masonry work, when she began helping her husband at his contract job. However, her interest was not well received by the people around her. She was often mocked for her interest in a ‘man’s job.’ Being a woman of grit, she refused to give up on her interest and signed up for a course in Shuttering Carpentry at DHFL’s Skill Development Centre. During her training, her desire to learn made her a diligent and sincere student.

After her graduation and with the full support of her proud husband she began working alongside him as a contractual worker. Her success has given her the confidence to flourish in this male-dominated career. She has broken the glass ceiling and is helping other women gain a similar  foothold in this industry.