Angry about rising education costs, a group of mothers from Cuddalore wanted to spend their 7-8 hours of ‘leisure’ time meaningfully to support their child’s education economically.
Nisha Subramaniam and Shivaranjani Ramasubramanyam, who work with Kanavu, an initiative working with NGO Association for Sarva Seva Farms (Assefa), met these women during their village visits in September 2017 and set up an initiative called Sura.
“We wanted our children to lead a better life than ours. We are uneducated and can’t do much sitting in our village. Opportunities are limited and cultural barriers for a woman to even step out of her home is so high — these were the stories we heard during village visits.
This pushed us to think about the power of opportunity in the life of a woman in rural India. We asked them what they would like to do as a collective. They came up with the idea of learning to stitch. That’s how Sura was born. Microcredit supported them to buy sewing machines and start sewing classes,” says Nisha.
The women work on designing cloth bags, pouches and bedsheets. Currently, Sura women run a centre in Periyar Nagar village in rural Cuddalore.
A typical village in rural India is poorly connected to the outside world, has unreliable transport facilities, limited learning opportunities and imposes a lot of cultural barriers on women. “Similarly, Sura women too faced some challenges.
For a woman who has grown up in such an atmosphere, with no ‘working woman’ as an example to look up to, being the first one is not easy. All of these factors pose a challenge to a woman working in a village, especially, aspiring to work as a collective to set up their own tailoring centre.
Even something as simple as procuring raw materials that involves long hours of waiting for public transport, having to depend on a male member in the family to help them with transport, fighting with the family to secure permissions to step out and bringing it back without getting wet in the rains.
Adding to these challenges is understanding and navigating technology. The English language is another barrier, especially when there is a need to understand the preferences of a customer. Thankfully, Sura women are overcoming all these challenges,” she points out.
When Ilavarasi, one of the Sura women, shared that this was the first year she bought her son his birthday dress from her own income, her confidence spoke for itself.
From greater confidence to make everyday decisions to slowly becoming active decision-makers in family matters, Sura women have overcome social barriers on a regular basis.
Talking about future plans, Nisha remarks, “We aspire to strengthen our current unit with a steady stream of orders and process improvisation for the same.
We are also exploring possibilities of setting up other such women groups with specialised products to meet the growing needs of the market. The women are also trying to upcycle the products.”