Women's Self-Help Society
An Himalayan Women�s Association in India
�Women , a majority of the world�s population , receive only a small share of developmental opportunities . They are often excluded from education or from the better jobs , from political systems or from adequate health care �..In the countries for which relevant data are available , the female human development index is only 60% that of males.� Human Development Report 1993 United Nations Development Program
�We not only want a piece of the pie , we also want to choose the flavour and know how to make it ourselves.� Ela Bhatt (Self Employed Women�s Association)
�Gods reside where woman is worshipped.� Manusmrti Ch 3, SL 56
�Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.� Margaret Mead
Dharmkot, Bhagsu (or Bhagsunag), Naddi, and Baal are small mountain villages in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. They are inhabited by a population of half-nomadic Hindu shepherds, the Gaddis, who speak their own language and have their own traditions and occupations.
Since 1996, a group of women from these remote mountain hamlets are working and learning together in a local association, �The Gaddi Women's Self Help Society." These are who women never had a chance to go to school, widows in desperate need to support their family, newly graduated young women in search of decent employment, and a French school teacher on sabbatical leave, Isabelle Pompignat Mahendroo. At the same time, the Society works to improve access for local children to primary school.
The women draw a monthly salary for their part-time work; part-time work enables them to do the domestic chores in the farms. Decisions are made during the weekly meetings, where they learn to purchase, produce, promote, deliver, sell, keep the accounts, and write bills. As they work they get basic training in writing, reading, arithmetic, basic rules of democracy, and decision making. The donors who support the society help make the experiment a growing reality, giving the women time to acquire knowledge and self confidence. This project has given training in different skills and created gainful employment for Gaddi women and girls.
All the money used for running the society comes through donations from friends or charitable institutions. The only exception is the salaries paid to the women working in the Food Processing unit, where they are paid with earnings from the sale of their products. The money received for funding goes into a common pool; from there it is used as and when required. SHAMA, Inc. helps support the efforts of these women.
The Food Making Unit, started in 1996, the three Tailoring Schools, and the computer center seem to be reaching out to more and more people. Isabelle says, "The fact that now I have more help for my work encourages me to reach out towards those interior regions where there is less access to educational facilities for children or income generation programs for women."
Food Making ||
Computer Center ||
Goals: Women's education, women's right to employment, skill training, and training of businesses run by women.
Principles: Transparency, accountability, decision-making on a democratic basis, a society directed and governed by women.
Purposes of Training: Training is based on the students' convenience and interests, not the teacher's.
Isabelle Pompignat Mahendroo, a teacher in France, is presently on an extended sabbatical with the purpose of educating and helping the tribal women of Himalayan regions to be self-reliant. Married in India and blessed with a child, "Mridul Jeremy," Mrs. Mahendroo has managed and run the Gaddi Women's Self-help Society since 1996. Her husband, Alok Mahendroo, teaches computer skills to villagers on a voluntary basis, as well as the making of items to sell.
Mrs. Jyoti Chander of Stevens Point, WI, president of SHAMA, Inc., visited the Gaddi projects in December 2003. Her observations can be found here.
The Gaddi Women�s Self-help Society
Village � Dhupnal
P.O. - Bhagsunag
District � Kangra
India � 176219
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