Katherine: Female Empowerment in Rural India

It was fascinating and inspiring to discover what Indian companies are doing to tackle gender inequality. During my time in India, I discovered two endeavours aiming to address inequity related to geography and gender – the Internet Saathi Programme and the Silai School Project.

Tata Trusts and Google India’s Internet Saathi Programme aims to overcome the online gender gap in rural India by teaching female villagers how to use the internet and providing them with data-enabled devices. Trained women (known as Internet Saathis) become trainers themselves and work to digitally empower other women. In a country where internet penetration has only reached about 36%, the significance of this digital literacy initiative is huge. So far, over 81,500 rural women have been trained as Internet Saathis, and over 28 million women have been digitally empowered as a result. With improved digital literacy rates, rural Indian communities have greater access to financial opportunities, education and crucial medical information. This programme has also helped challenge traditional gender roles, which are more commonly enforced in rural areas. As the Internet Saathi Programme has grown, opinions regarding the role and importance of women have become increasingly progressive. 

I was ecstatic to be inside Google’s lobby in Gurgaon

Like Google’s programme, the Silai School Project empowers rural women through skill building. The popular Indian electrical appliance company, USHA, has partnered with local NGOs to set up Classical Silai Schools. In these schools, rural women are equipped with the apparatus and knowledge required to sew. Like Internet Saathis, Classical Silai School graduates often become trainers themselves, and can generate a sizeable income by operating their own Satellite Silai School and selling sewn garments. Having trained over 530,000 women, USHA Silai Schools have helped create numerous success stories, and many alumni are now the primary breadwinner in their household.

During our time in Jaipur, we visited a Satellite Silai School run by a driven, talented woman who had completed USHA’s original training programme. As the photos below show, the school was in full swing during our visit:

Learners at the Satellite Silai School
Learners at the Satellite Silai School

The quality of the garments produced at the school was truly astounding. By skilfully sewing, the women we met had not only earned respect in their village, but also achieved a considerably higher quality of life.

A gorgeous skirt, hand-sewn by the teacher at Satellite Silai School

Without India’s integral social fabric, the success of the Internet Saathi Programme and the Silai School Project would not have been possible. A powerful sense of community spirit pervades rural India – villagers are bonded by their shared inter-generational histories and willingness to make sacrifices for their collective village. This is the reason why women trained under either initiative can be trusted to empower others with skills and entrepreneurial insight. India is a place where one helping hand can create dozens, hundreds, or even thousands, of success stories.

Katherine Skidmore

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