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How A Girl From Jharkhand Found A Way To Pull Her Family Out Of Poverty In Bangalore

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By Lavanya Garg and Snigdha Shahi: 

At just 21, Gurubari Jonko, a garment worker in Bengaluru, is the sole breadwinner of her family. Her family consists of a 15-year-old brother and an ailing mother, who both live in her native village in Jharkhand.

She tells us excitedly that her little brother wants to become an engineer. We ask her what did she want to become? Her eyes light up as she responds, “A teacher.”

After finishing school, Gurubari planned to enrol for a graduate degree course at a nearby college. But financial constraints in her household made her take up tailor training at the local rural training centre set up by Shahi Exports Pvt Ltd in her village.

After the 45-day training, she, along with 70 other girls from nearby villages, came to Bengaluru. Her family was nervous about sending her to an unknown city but it was reassuring for them that all the girls were going together and would live in a company hostel.

Gurubari herself was anxious about taking up her first job. But now, three years later, she enjoys her work and has adjusted to life in Bengaluru. It helps that many of the girls in the hostel are from her native state.

Two of our ongoing randomised control trials at the Good Business Lab aims to understand the impact on hostel living conditions for workers, after the transfer of management from the employer to a third-party NGO, and the impact of setting up a rural training centre on the local village economy. Access to a training centre and a hostel in the city of her workplace have been instrumental in getting Gurubari to where she is now – from a girl in a remote village to a working woman in a metropolitan city.

As India seeks to reap the demographic dividend from its large and youthful force, creating and providing access to job opportunities takes on more significance than ever. For women especially, structural and societal barriers to education result in lower access to employment opportunities. According to ILO estimates, women’s labour force participation rate in India has fallen from 37% to 27% in the last decade.

To put this statistic into perspective, 114 out of 185 countries recorded an increase in the percentage of women’s participation in the labour force in the last decade; only 41 countries experienced a decline and India currently has the second-lowest rate in South Asia after Pakistan. “The Power of Parity” report by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that India can increase its GDP by 16%-60% by enabling women to participate in the economy at par with men.

For the past three years, Gurubari has been sending money back home and has made sure that her brother continued his schooling, her mother had money for treatment, and that they were able to hire help to work on their small agricultural land. As Gurubari proves to her family and community her self-reliance and financial independence through her work, she also displays greater charge of decision making in her personal life – like when to get married, a decision often not within the control of Indian women.

“I never expected to go to Bengaluru and become a tailor! I used to think of being a teacher, getting my BA degree, and maybe eventually opening an institute to teach children. I used to take informal tuitions for children back in my village. The closest I can get here to that is visiting the crèche and talking to the little ones whenever I get time. I couldn’t study after class 12 but I want to make sure my brother goes to college and studies what he wants,” says Gurubari.

She often thinks about going back to studying but she is practical. She points out that if both she and her brother were to study, there would be no one to earn for the family. She is mulling over taking computer classes in Bengaluru, somewhere near her hostel, but then again, managing classes with work is a challenge.

In her three-year-old tenure, Gurubari has moved up from the position of tailor to batch captain. Production pressure is always high but she understands that if she’s angry and yelling at tailors, it will harm the work. They will also not be in the right state of mind to work properly or happily. We point out to her, isn’t she a teacher already, even if not the sort she expected? She considers this for a few seconds and smiles, “Yes, maybe I already am.”

This article is part of a three-part series that aims to highlight the Good Business Lab’s three focus areas – freeing up female labour force, improving job quality and skilling the workforce – by bringing to life the voice of young female garment workers, on the occasion of International Youth Day. By sharing the hardships, triumphs and everyday lives of young women in the garments sector, we wish to build a dialogue on #WorkerWelfareIsGoodBusiness.

The other two articles can be read here and here.

These pieces have been written and compiled by Lavanya Garg (Research and Communications Manager at GBL) and Snigdha Shahi (Research and Communications Associate at GBL).

You can find more stories like these on Good Business Lab’s annual magazine here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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