Often when we use the term hero, we associate it with larger-than-life figures who are magnanimous and passionate. In most cases, these people turn out to be men.
As a result, we often fail to acknowledge the achievements of women. Their achievements remain as footnotes that don’t hold much significance. However, there are a large number of women who overcame odds to build a life for themselves.
During our work, we met such women who have achieved the extraordinary, while living in the slums of Delhi. They are the ones without whose support, our houses cannot function. Yet we fail to acknowledge them and their significance in our lives.
We met women of different age groups who have migrated from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal to Delhi for better livelihood opportunities. As they are mostly married off at a young age, they often become a part of the unorganised sector where they either work as domestic helps or in garment factories with erratic working hours and low wages. These women continue to do a majority of the ‘unpaid’ work such as child care, cooking, cleaning along with the ‘paid’ work outside the house.
Reena, a young mother, is also a community mobiliser in Action for Excellence in Women and Children Foundation (AEWCF), an NGO based out of Delhi. She is also pursuing a Master of Social Work (MSW) at IGNOU.
Married at a young age, she had the determination to complete her education without any support from the family. So, what makes her unique? She carries her 20-month-old daughter to work everyday – whether it is during her interaction with the community or her daily trudge to the fair price shop for buying rations.
Today, almost all the women in the communities know and recognise her. They look forward to their interaction with her and ask for her advice. When asked why she does these things, she wants to ensure that she is independent and also provide a good education for her daughter Nandini.
Suman is a tailor by profession. Born in poverty, she borrows her neighbour’s sewing machine to stitch clothes and make her living.
She learnt crocheting from AECWF so as to have more livelihood opportunities. She does all the household work by herself, while also looking after her ailing father and brothers. She also looks after her niece, who is an orphan.
On a normal day, she wakes up at 5 AM to prepare food for all the family members. After filling up water for the family, she drops her niece to school before finishing her household chores. Only then does she start to sew clothes.
She is also polio-stricken. So, when we asked her if she wanted to learn crocheting, she was very excited to learn a new skill. Today, she’s making new products. She is easily recognisable by the smile she wears on her face.
Saraswati owns a ration shop in one of the slums of south Delhi. A mother of two, she relocated to Delhi from West Bengal a few years ago after her husband passed away.
After a lot of hardships, she managed to set up her grocery shop. She ensured that her children went to school, got jobs and were married. Her only regret is that her son stays away from her.
Now, Saraswati is almost 60. Yet, she works in nearby apartments to support herself and to buy items for her shop.
Swasti, a mother of two and a homemaker, lives in one of the slums. She hails from Darbhanga, Bihar. After being married at a young age, she migrated to Delhi with her husband.
As she hadn’t pursued academics enough to secure a job, she enrolled in crocheting classes organised by AECWF, to refine her skills. Even though her daily duties included doing household chores and looking after her family, she regularly attended the crocheting classes.
As a matter of fact, Swasti is among the best in the class, when it comes to understanding the art and the ability to translate ideas into products.
All of these may seem like minor achievements. But for the individual women who have travelled far to reach where they are today while building their lives one step at a time, these achievements are enormous and worth emulating. What distinguishes them is their perseverance, passion and the knowledge that they will be able to reach their goals only if they keep working!
Image used for representative purposes only.