How financial empowerment gives women a voice

Financial empowerment is the key to increasing women’s influence in putting an end to child labour.

It’s not been easy in Budhpura—the centre of the cobble-making industry in Rajasthan and focus of No Child Left Behind, our project to support work to eradicate child labour in the natural stone industry.

India is reeling under the spread of Covid-19 and it is all the more to the credit of those involved that progress continues to be made, in such difficult circumstances, with the community projects that are so valuable in improving lives in the stone industry.

Self-help groups have been a feature of village life for some time.

Manjari is the grass-roots NGO that operates in the heart of Budhpura with a team of fifteen who work directly with mine-workers, their families and local businesses.

Manish Singh is Manjari’s Secretary. “Wave one of the virus did not bring any difficulty,” he says, “but wave two has been disastrous. We do not have much liberty to move in the field, so whatever volunteers we have are managing the work.”

Although the ultimate aim of their work is to eradicate child labour, the success of this depends on improvements being made to many different aspects of life for those who live and work in the area—to health, education, and income, to name but a few.

Self-help groups have been a feature of village life for some time. Here’s one from 2015.

Enter Self Help groups. Over the past months, support has continued for these wherever possible. Whereas self-help groups in this country are initiated with many different purposes in mind, in India the self-help movement began with the focus firmly on women’s empowerment. “Given the socio-economic and gender disparities we have,” says Manish, “it was considered a tool to bring about change in the life of women.” This is exactly their purpose in Budhpura.

Varun Sharma is Programmes Director of Aravali, the agency that works at state level, acting as an interface between the government and grass-roots organisations like Manjari, while also helping the groups to develop their reach. “If children are at the heart of our project,” says Varun, “then protecting their mothers is also one of the key roles of our programme. That’s why we form self-help groups.”

In normal times, neighbourhood groups of around ten to twenty women meet every month to discuss matters of common interest. “When you bring them together, then the first thing is they must feel that they are a part of group, and the group has an agenda to fulfil. How long can you sustain these groups without an agenda?” points out Manish. “That’s a practical problem we have. So, we keep on taking up different activities.”

Each meeting covers a women’s issue—including family planning, menstrual health, and hygiene—but also has a business agenda.

One of the most important items on the agenda is inculcating saving habits; economic empowerment has a major part to play in making women’s voices heard. “If they have a role in family decision-making because of the money they have, then it makes a difference to their position within the family,” says Manish.

In a meeting.

“We’ve found economic empowerment is very much necessary when we work with women and children,” says Varun. “If she is earning but she’s not saving, at the end of the day a woman doesn’t have the power to negotiate, power to expand—so, she’s only an earner. An earner should be a decision-maker, I think.”

The effects are gradually being felt and Varun has noticed that in areas where women have become more powerful financially, female empowerment overall has been greater.

The dream is that, in giving women a voice and the information they need, women will be able to work together to resolve some of the issues they face—domestic violence and child marriage being just two.

Helping women cannot be done in isolation, however. Everyone in the community has to be brought on board, and the approach is always to be gender-sensitive. “When we say gender-sensitive,” explains Manish, “it means involvement. For us gender is something that involves women and men both. If you think you are empowering women, but the one who is holding the power is not being sensitised, then all your efforts are useless. It is the men who are holding the power.”

So, Manjari works with labour groups too. When these groups—largely made up of men—meet, Manish and his team talk to them, not only about labour rights, but about gender justice and their responsibilities as men in society.

“We work with men and boys,” says Manish, “so their perception of women is changed.”

Read more about the work of Manjari and what has already been achieved in Celebrating Budhpura.

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Indian sandstone’s alter ego: Polycaro visits India

By now, most actors in the natural stone sector have gotten acquainted with the Initiatief TruStone. In 2019, Flanders and the Netherlands joined forces and founded a multi-stakeholder initiative with a responsible procurement policy for sourcing natural stone from high-risk areas, supported by governments, companies, NGOs and unions. Chain transparency and care is the common thread throughout this story.

Not always obvious, but not impossible either. After all, bundled strength results in more impact. To truly understand what this is about, there is the following advice: Go see for yourself, with your own eyes, on location, where you, as a company, buy your materials from. Start the dialogue with local suppliers and search for solutions that aid all parties.

Indian sandstone is used to furnish many driveways, streets, and village squares throughout Belgium, but also in England, France, and the Netherlands many people love this product. This is because the Indian Kandla cobble stones are a great alternative to the Belgian Grès du Condroz. The reason? Very simple: Kandla cobble stones are cheaper and have shorter delivery times for any required quantity. A dream scenario for many and especially for tendering governments. Or is it?

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No Child Left Behind: New Funding To Improve Life For Home Workers

The continued funding of the No Child Left Behind initiative is essential for progress to continue. Here we look at why the funding is so important to the continued good work of the scheme.

No Child Left Behind, the project supported by Stoneasy & London Stone which aims to eradicate child labour in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India, is celebrating; the Dutch government has awarded funding for the next five years.

It’s a significant step forward, allowing the project to expand the solid base it has established. “They’ve given enough funding,” says London Stone Managing Director Steven Walley, “to help improvement in measured steps.”

Budhpura is in the major cobble-stone manufacturing area of Rajasthan and the obstacles to eradicating child labour completely are multiple, making a simple solution impossible. In a previous article, The NGO Playing a Central Role in Eradicating Child Labour in Budhpura, London Stone MD, Steven Walley, recounts how he thought he had the answer to eradicating a major health issue, only to realise how truly sustainable solutions need a thoroughly holistic approach.

The problems that result in child labour are thickly entwined. Limited educational facilities, discrimination, lack of fresh drinking water, health problems, migration, wages, working conditions – all of these, and more, mesh together to make one simple solution impossible.

The answer is to keep the endpoint in sight, and the aim of No Child Left Behind is to eradicate child labour in the district. Huge strides have been made in improving education, as we reported in Number Of Teachers Key To Tackling Creating Child Labour Free Zones, which means families can see much more point to children being in school. Self-help groups are helping to give women choices in their lives and improve their health.

So far, the project has concentrated on improving working conditions in the cobble yards and as a result of this good work, child labour in the yards is almost non-existent.  Now, with the new input of funding, one of the additional aims is to increase the scope of the project to improve the situation of the homeworkers. For reasons of convenience a large proportion of Sandstone cobbles are produced in backyards and on common ground. “It’s a very large community of workers,” says Steven. “and the expanded scope of the project will look to improve their working conditions too.” Much of the work involves finding the people affected, talking to them, making sure they have the benefits they’re entitled to from the government, and ensuring there’s structure to the work they do. One of the measures that can be taken is to ensure that homeworkers have pass books to record the volume of their piece work.

None of this would be possible if the community hadn’t absolutely embraced the project. Alongside seeking-out home workers, Manjari will continue working to bring standards up in a number of the current cobble yards to make them into ‘model yards’. With male and female toilets, maternity pay, adequate shade, fresh drinking water and, if possible, a creche, these will provide the template for other yards. Better facilities are likely to encourage home workers to want to work there.

“It feels like just the beginning; a drop in the ocean compared with the wider industry,” says Steve. “But the first five years are the hardest. Now with funding in place and all the people in place, we have a plan to increase the speed at which changes are made.” To find out more about the creation of the Budhpura Child-Free Labour Zone and how improvements have made an enormous difference across the community in the past six years, take a look at Celebrating Budhpura!

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Local Business In Action

A key driver of supply chain improvements will always be the private sector. Intelligent entrepreneurs will look for ways to find wins for all stakeholders. This is Bhagwan’s story.

Trade and investment in the Natural Stone Sector offer’s great potential for generating income, growth, prosperity, sustaining livelihoods and fostering local development. Under the “Getting Down to Business” project Stop Child Labour, through Manjari (A local CSO), began working with local businesses to protect the human rights of families engaged in the processing of natural stone.

Mr. Bhagwan Das has been manufacturing Sandstone Cobbles in the Budhpura area of the Bundi district of Rajasthan for the past 20 years.  His father moved here when Bhagwan Das was only 2 years old. His father started a Paan (Beetle) shop in Budhpura to earn his livelihood. Due to his family conditions Bhagwan left education at the 6th grade. Initially, he started a grocery shop but he was keen to explore other avenues to increase his family income. He decided to establish a business producing sandstone cobbles. The business flourished and he established one of the largest cobble yards in Budhpura employing around 300 male/female workers.

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Peeru’s Story

Our project to Create Child Labour Zones in Budhpura is touching the lives of real people. This is Peeru’s story

Peeru is 10 years old and belongs to Bheel (Schedule tribe) community, residing in Patiyal village in Budhpura. Even though Peeru’s father works in the natural stone mines and his mother makes Sandstone cobbles, their combined income was not enough to meet the family needs. To bring in more money Peeru and his siblings, despite being enrolled in school, were sent to work in the family cattle grazing business. For the family, earning additional income from livestock was more important than education.

Education Volunteers of Manjari, local partners of Stop Child Labor (SCL) play an important role motivating children and their parents to attend school. 

One day an education volunteer visited Peeru’s house to find out why his parents were not making him attend school. His father said that the money from cattle grazing was more important than education. The Manjari volunteers didn’t give up and kept on meeting the family trying to convince them to send Peeru to school. Finally, they agreed to send Peeru to a motivation center located in Patiyal village. Attending the motivational center was a whole new experience for Peeru where he was finally given the space to play and interact with other children. Peeru also learned other basic things like the alphabet and poems. Peeru thrived in this new environment and never missing a class became happier and more confident. Witnessing the positive change in their son’s behavior, they finally understood the significance that education could play in their family’s life.  They sold all their cattle and enrolled Peeru in full time education

Peeru is now studying in class 3rd at a Government Primary School at Budhpura.   Now they send Peeru’s younger brother to the same motivation center, so that he can also gradually transition into formal education.

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