Nepali Times
Sewing a social safety net



The small single-storied house in Gyaneswor is abuzz with the continuous clatter of sewing machines. Inside the home, poor women with difficult family lives are being trained in tailoring and other skills.

Women's Advancement and Skill Development Centre which manages the home has not only helped the women overcome personal and social obstacles, but also made them financially independent.

Among the group is 16 year old Sushmita Subedi who is learning to be a tailor. Before coming to Kathmandu, she worked as a domestic helper to support her family of eight and injured her hand in the process. She says: "When I worked as a servant, people ridiculed me and I was scolded frequently by my employers. I hope learning tailoring skills will change my situation and help me take care of my family." Subedi looks forward to owning a sewing machine and ending her harsh life as a maid.

Sarita Karki, 36, of Sindhupalchok shares a similar background. After completing tenth grade, she was forced into marriage and recalls being regularly abused by her alcoholic husband. Karki, who has two children was desperate to break out of the cycle, earn a living and become self-sufficient. After struggling to make ends meet selling vegetables, she took tailoring classes. "No matter how educated a woman is, people won't respect her unless she is self-reliant," says Karki.

Before coming to Kathmandu, Anju Poudel worked 12 hours daily at a garment factory in Birganj, where she earned Rs 2,000 and struggled to get by. Opening a toy store in Kathmandu didn't improve her economic position either. Following her sister's advice she joined the centre, learned to sew and now earns a reasonable income.

When Deepa Rai from Solukhumbu started her tailoring shop, her husband was opposed to it. Today Rai is a respected earning member of her family and says her husband is more supportive.

Like the women at the centre, Chairperson Reena Rai, too had humble beginnings. She started her career as a tailor, worked as an instructor for a while and then went on to establish the first women's centre in her home district of Makwanpur.

Rai says she started the centre because she wanted to impart her skills and encourage women in her village to seek economic independence. Until now Rai and her staff have trained 11,000 women from diverse classes and ethnicities.

However, she is disappointed by the apathy and negligence of the state and private sector and disheartened to see skilled women staying idle at home without work or income. Many of the women she trains don't have the capital to start their own ventures. Some don't even have the money to buy pieces of cloth to practice on.

Says Rai: "I wish the government or NGOs would help them financially at least during the initial stages. But so far no one has shown any interest."

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Read alo:
Knotting for Nepal, BHRIKUTI RAI
A woman's personal hobby is helping others become self-sufficient and preserve traditional weaving skills

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)