Making rural women shine: Empowerment through skills training

  • Etti Bali, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 02, 2016 20:03 IST
From Left to Right: Women at Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Insha-e-Noor and Azad Foundation.

Have you ever wondered where some of your decorated handcrafted diaries come from? Or maybe the colourful tea-light holder on your desk? Many of these carefully handcrafted items are made by women from rural communities across Delhi. It doesn’t stop there, either. If you’re a foodie, you might want to walk down to Nizamuddin Basti and try some delicious traditional food, cooked by these women.
Lately, many NGOs have found new and interesting methods of empowering these women and providing them with means to sustain a livelihood. These self-help foundations train women in diverse fields, such as embroidery,handicrafts, cooking traditional food, and driving taxis. “Many of these women are either out of work, or work in low paid professions traditionally assigned to women like domestic help. We need to empower them socially, equip them with a range of skills and knowledge to enable them to build confidence,” says Veronika Miskech Fricova, programme manager, Azad Foundation.

Here are some such organisations that have taken up initiatives to help these women find a dignified vocation.


The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) runs a project for the restoration of Humayun’s Tomb and urban renewal of Nizamuddin basti. Under the latter, women from the basti are provided with skills training so that they can earn a sustainable livelihood.

“Heritage conservation can, and should lead to socio-economic development. Our project, Insha-e-Noor, has six self-help groups in the basti that produce contemporary hand crafted products,” says Jyotsna Lall, director (programmes), AKTC.

Products made by the women using sanjhi paper craft include, diaries, framed art and tea-light holders. (AKTC)

“In 2009, we started training the women from the basti in crafts like aari embroidery (commonly seen on lehengas), crochet, and tailoring. We also trained them in the art of paper cutting, called sanjhi,” says Lall.

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The women first sold their products in 2010 at a Dastkaar Bazar, under the brand name of Insha-e-Noor. “They retail through a kiosk at Humayun’s Tomb, but people can also visit our centre in Mashaiq Manzil in Nizamuddin basti to buy the products,” informs Lall.

Today, the women manage the kiosk, hold exhibitions, procure most of the raw material, and manage finances.

The trust runs two more projects, namely Zaika-e-Nizamuddin and Rehmat Nigrani Samuh. For the first one, the women make the traditional cuisine of Nizamuddin and address the nutritional needs of the children in the basti. The second one is a community group that manages the two toilets in the basti.

Women from Nizauddin basti cook traditional dishes such as shammi kebabs, biryani and korma. (AKTC)

“If women are to be seen as citizens of the country, then empowering them is very important. Livelihood is the starting point of this process, as it helps women exercise their choices,” concludes Lall.

Apne Aap Women Worldwide

Apne Aap Women Worldwide (AAWW) is a research, advocacy and service delivery organisation that works with the women in Najafgarh. These women belong to three indigenous communities of sapera, peran and singhi, which manufacture herbal medicines, bamboo utensils and toys. These nomadic tribes would then move from one place to another, along with their cattle, for trade.

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“During the British rule, the tribes were forced to give up their trade and live in segregation. They worked as slaves, which also meant being sexually available for the officers. Today, the women from these tribes are still trapped in prostitution, for whom we are trying to create a sustainable eco-system. We train them in skills to make bags, scarves and stoles, bangles and tie-and-dye,” says Ruchira Gupta, founder.

Women from the rural communities of Najafgarh are trained in skills such as tie-and-dye, tailoring and stitching. (Apne Aap Women Worldwide)

The organisation also links the women to the government’s anti-poverty programme, so that they get their birth and caste certificates, healthcare facilities, education and housing. The women have participated in many fairs, such as India Art Fair and Jaipur Literary Fest. “We organised a campaign, called ‘Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex’, where we involved university students in Delhi. They did street plays, made T-shirts and sold them to raise funds,” adds Gupta.

Azad Foundation

Azad Foundation runs a programme called ‘Women on Wheels’, in which women from bastis across Delhi are trained as professional drivers. It serves a dual purpose of providing women with livelihood, as well as offering a safe mode of commute to women travelers.

The women are given driving lessons on simulators, replicating an actual, on-road driving experience. (Azad Foundation)

The foundation plans to create a world where all women enjoy full citizenship, earn with dignity and generate wealth and value for all.

“We work with young women aged 18-35 from disadvantaged backgrounds living in slums and resettlement colonies. We want to empower women to become ‘professionals’ and be able to provide excellent customer service and handle any situation on the road,” says Veronika Miskech Fricova, programme manager.

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The training not only focuses on technical skills such as GPS and car maintenance, but also educates them on issues like self-defence, financial literacy, communications skills and so forth. “We also work towards creating supportive and violence-free spaces for women in their homes and communities, so they can take up this non-traditional profession and live a life of dignity,” concludes Veronika.

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