All women should be given the opportunity to reach their potential and fulfil their aspirations. As women, we relish in sharing our experiences with companions and relating to one-another, solidifying our own understanding of feminine essence.
In developed nations, women easily take for granted freedom of speech and the privilege to discuss with peers openly about the common threads of daily life. These regular conversation pieces maintain balanced, grounded individuals with seasoned convictions and perspectives about what being a woman entails, and how their roles are important in society at large.
The Barefoot Enriche Program has revealed that women’s access to practical knowledge and skills relevant to their lives are foundations for success in their ambitions. We have invested in women because building their confidence and understanding of their importance in society greatly aids in developing their communities for the better.
From December 2017 to February 2018, we welcomed nine hundred women in 60 villages to join us in a 2- day workshop known as ENGAGE. Here, community workshops are held involving these four intimate topics:
- Gender Sensitivity and Awareness
- Financial Literacy
- Women’s Reproductive Health & Wellness
- Human & Child Rights
ENGAGE community workshops offer a safe platform for women to connect on subjects relating to their day-to-day lives, encouraging a sharing of common feminine experiences. Typically, they are illiterate and semi-illiterate home-makers and daily wage earners with busy, preoccupied lives. The personal stories they are able to share create a safeguarded environment that they are seldom at liberty to construct.
Our findings demonstrate that rural Rajasthani women spend their entire day working, without any break or afternoon nap. They have longer working hours than their male counterparts, yet; are referred to as the ‘less productive’ sex in their societies. During the day, they are busy working their family’s fields and businesses, taking care of children, supporting a never-ending list of in-laws and in the night they pleasure their husbands- with or without their consent. Yet, they choose to sacrifice two days of paid labour to attend our ENGAGE workshops at our Tilonia campus.
At first I wondered, amidst their extremely hectic and struggling situation, what motivates them to make such a sacrifice? I found the answer in their receptiveness. – Ruchika Kanoi, Barefoot ENRICHE Outreach Coordinator
The residential workshops consist of two full days of activities that enable women to breathe and feel free! Without the worry of their chores or social pressures they create a safe space to talk, laugh, sing and dance as they please. In a society where a woman is not able to speak her mind freely, our trainees find a space which they can own. Our workshops act as a catalyst to start the conversations around Gender Inequality- something which is extremely prominent and embedded in their hardcore patriarchal society. For most of them, it is the first time they share their personal stories and hear them from others.
Women are finally entitled to collaborate face-to-face on the many issues they face, increasing their trust of one another while feeling empathy for their peers. The personal stories they are able to share create a safeguarded environment that they are seldom at liberty to construct.
Reproductive health, an area which is often neglected in a society which treats women mainly as a baby-making machine, is a major subject involved in the workshops. The women learn about menstruation- its process, importance, hygiene management and most importantly the fact that menstruation is a natural and biological phenomenon and not a disease, making women inferior to men. They discuss the various menstrual taboos and during this course, realise that they are both, the victims and the perpetrators of these taboos. They realise that in order to break the taboos, they need to first stop being the perpetrators for their daughters and daughters-in-law and rather, start being a change-agent to them.
The workshop is also a space where they learn new skills that would help them manage their households better, their primary responsibility. They learn easy ways to maintain a household budget, in order to save more for times of emergencies and other necessities. They discuss the importance and need of cutting down their spendings, especially under social pressure which lead them and their families into a vicious cycle of loans. The workshop again creates a safe space for the women where they can passionately exchange opinions about the age-old customs and traditions and how it has been affecting their day-to-day happiness and peace without any fear of backlash.
They also get an opportunity to enhance their skills on farming by learning to make an organic compost to be generally used in their kitchen gardens, adding to the nutrition of their families.
The women who form a part of the workshop channelise an invincible energy amongst each other which is full of empathy, understanding each others’ pain and struggles beyond the societal divisions of caste and religion. They listen to each other, motivate each other to fight against the dominant structure, to ask for their rights, to take a step and voice against the everyday violence they face in different forms. The workshops help build an environment of awareness, shared experiences and learnings leading to solidarity among women and their collective progress.
Women attend the workshops to absorb information, sing, dance, laugh and talk their hearts out. This is how they silently challenge patriarchy one workshop, one smile, one laugh, one song and one dance at a time and loosen up the shackles which hold them so tight.
We could not have accomplished this without the help from our field centres who are essential in mobilizing our work in isolated regions.
For more information on the Barefoot ENRICHE program, contact Ruchika Kanoi at email@example.com or contribute to support more women empowerment workshops.