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East India Textiles

The State of Women Weavers in Handloom Sector

Historically, women weavers have been a significant part of handloom weaving practices, but this contribution goes unnoticed since weaving is an in-house activity for most artisans who live in and weave from their homes. Adding to this, the modernisation of the handloom sector along with a couple of other factors have been pushing women even more firmly towards the margins.

According to The Fourth All India Handloom Census, 2019–20, nearly 72% of handloom weavers in the country are female. Women weavers in India today number over 38 million. Most belong to traditional families of handloom weavers in India, and ever since they were young girls, have been handling most of the pre-weaving work such as preparation of the yarn and the looms, dying and/or tying and dying yarn and fabric, and embellishing garments by hand embroidering them. Even if women are not weaving, they will be part of the allied workforce since it involves the entire family. For handloom, three allied workers are required by the main weaver, and they invariably would be from the same family, involving womenfolk.



THE REALITY

The modernization of the Indian handloom industry ironically pushes women even more firmly towards the margins. Their earlier participation in contributing to the handloom sector is dwindling at a fast pace due to factors like the mechanisation of looms, the rise of middlemen and opportunistic city-based designers.

The unfortunate truth is that the women workforce in the handloom sector has been turned a blind eye to for ages. Comprising more than 70 % of the total handloom artisan strength as per government surveys, it is the female artisans that are contributing the most to uplift the handloom traditions that we are so proud of. Yet it has always been the male artisans in the industry who are credited for the good weaves that come out meanwhile it is assumed that the females merely do the more small tasks while following instructions given to them.

THE FACTORS RESPONSIBLE

1. Over 50% of the weavers’ families lived a life of extreme poverty. Most of the profits are pocketed by middlemen and the many greedy fashion garment retailers.

2. Health issues resulting from poverty add to their misery. Tuberculosis, anaemia, asthma, fading eyesight, various skin and bone-related problems are common.

3. Over 50% of the women are semi-literate or illiterate, making them heavily dependent on men be it, husband or sons. The school drop-out rate among girls in their families is also quite high. 

4. They are neither given the chance nor the encouragement to do the weaving on their own and increase the earnings of the family.

5. In spite of most effort and time towards the completion of a handloom textile, the women have no say in the domain of sales, raw materials, design etc. The family males usually get formally enlisted as the owners and primary workers while women are enlisted primarily as housewives who assist men, hence are secondary workers.

6. With the patriarchal nature of the Indian society that puts women is in lower status, to begin with, womenfolk automatically face gender discrimination at workplace even when they function independently.

7. Skilled women weavers get dominated even by their less experienced sons only because of gender discrimination.

INITIATIVES TO HELP:

 

Smriti Irani, then Union Textiles Minister,  announced the ‘Kamaladevi Chattopadhya National Awards’ awards for women weavers & artisans, on International Women’s Day (9th March 2017). This award was introduced to recognize the excellent craftsmanship and hard work being put in by millions of women artisans to preserve handloom and handicraft heritage.

From our own end, Anuprerna is working to encourage all artisans, male and female, from the village artisan clusters and communities. By directly working with the artisans, we have eliminated the role of the greedy middlemen. The cost of the fabric is decided by the weavers themselves. We ensure that they are paid wages which is as per other respected professions. As such we are able to create a positive and sustainable environment, where the artisans are able to produce for the children's education and the healthcare their family deserves.

Though the average male to female artisan ratio is 60:40, there are some clusters where the male and female artisans are in equal forces, working side by side on the loom as equals like the Jamdani cluster. There are female weavers working on the loom by themselves like in the Shibori cluster. And there are clusters like the Kantha cluster which comprises 100% of female artisans where all decisions with respect to design and product are taken by them.



Team Anuprerna

Team Anuprerna

At Anuprerna, We Request Everyone To Contribute And Share. This Way We Can Create Global Recognition For These Beautiful Handwoven Craft & Textiles To Bestow Value Onto The Ordinary Lives Of Our Artisans With Extraordinary Skills. And We Believe That's The Only Way We Can Build A Sustainable And Ethical World For Ourselves.

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