Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam said, “Empowering women is a prerequisite for creating a good nation, when women are empowered, society with stability is assured.”
Indian women face discrimination in the public as well as private spheres, and the intersections of their gender, caste, class, and religious identities make their issues that much more insidious and call for very nuanced and targetted interventions. Furthermore, closing the gender gap will have a ripple effect on all of India’s most pressing developmental challenges, and carries the potential to exponentially advance the process of nation-building, making it an immensely worthy pursuit.
Recognising the enormous power and promise that investing in India’s women holds, SBI Foundation works with several trusted organisations dedicated to alleviating pertinent socio-economic issues that plague women. The Foundation has designed, supported and executed a diverse range of interventions to advance women’s rights and status in the society, by focusing on women’s access to healthcare, safe housing, education, and livelihood opportunities. In particular, our on-going programs like ‘Swasth Mahila - Swasth Goa’, ‘SBI Youth For India Fellowship’, ‘SBI Gram Seva’ and ‘Reintegration of Survivors of Trafficking and Violence through Skills Training, Education, and Sustainable Livelihood’, have managed to move the needle substantially on ground.
SBI Foundation’s Youth For India Fellowship
Recognised among the top ten youth fellowships in the country, the SBI Youth for India Fellowship unites India’s brightest young minds with remote rural communities for the singular mission of nation-building. The fellowship provides an avenue for talented urban professionals with a sincere passion for change and inclusive development to work immersively at the grassroots level, and gain lived experience of the challenges marginalised communities face. During this 13-month program, young changemakers are mentored by India’s foremost leaders in the rural development and governance sector. Fellows are trained to live and work with rural communities in remote Indian villages, understand ground realities, identify urgent issues, and co-create nuanced solutions with the overarching goal that, one day, every village has the necessary capacity to develop themselves sustainably.
One of the 12 thematic areas that our fellows have shown keen interest in and implemented several successful interventions, in-line with the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals, is women empowerment. Fellows have worked with women from diverse communities on a host of subjects. Over the past decade, nearly 100 fellows have designed and implemented projects for both the social and economic upliftment of women. Significant resources have been mobilised during these projects to drive access to education, provide professional and vocational skills, and even counter discriminatory regressive social norms. Many of these projects went on to become full-fledged enterprises, or larger interventions adopted by civil society organisations and implemented at scale.
One such project that ‘bloomed’ into an enterprise is Pratibha Krishnaiah’s ‘Himalayan Blooms’, which she first set up during her fellowship in the year 2014.
Observing that all the women from the tribal community based in Khetikan - Uttarakhand, the village that she was deployed to, had a flair for knitting and crochet, she pushed the women to explore monetising this hobby. What started with 10 risk-takers is now a 200-women strong enterprise, spread across 40 villages, each of whom earn between Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000 a month - a significant second source of income. They ship their products across the world, and fetch revenues to the tune of Rs 20-30 lakh per year. Pratibha herself decided to quit her job and leave behind her Bengaluru city life to support the venture until they become self-sustaining, and takes a modest honorarium of Rs 10,000 every month.
Another fellow, who started out in a tribal village in Gujarat and is now creating buzz internationally, having recently made the Forbes 30 under 30 list, is Saloni Sacheti, for her work with the social enterprise ‘Baansuli.’ Teaming up with 7 women and 12 men artisans from the tribal community based in Dang district in Gujarat, she helped set up a line of bamboo-based jewellery, rakhis, sustainable home décor items, and gifting items, etc. Baansuli is growing with each passing year, producing over 4000 home decor items, 10,000 pieces of jewelry and 2000 rakhis annually, and this journey has left a profound impact on the morale of its women producer-owners. The enterprise has clocked revenues of Rs. 12 lakhs so far.
Reintegration of Survivors of Trafficking and Violence through Skills Training, Education, and Sustainable Livelihood
In October last year, SBI Foundation and the Indian Institute of Banking & Finance (IIBF) partnered with Kshamata to reintegrate 40 women survivors of trafficking and violence into mainstream society by providing them with relevant training, education, and sustainable livelihood opportunities in Maharashtra’s Thane district. The project provides intensive care and support to survivors both personally and professionally. Various activities have been incorporated into the intervention to improve their physical and mental health, while also providing them with vocational training, with the goal and hope of transforming them into confident and contributing members of society. The 40 women have received trauma counselling, accommodation, basic literacy, and life skills. 20 women also received vocational skill training, job readiness and were also placed into various jobs.
Life skill educators conducted 58 sessions covering topics such as basic life skills, grooming, financial management, goal setting, communication, conflict resolution which help the survivors cope with daily challenges. 19 girls were provided with training in tailoring and 14 girls were provided with training in sewing. A jewellery supervisor was appointed to train them in jewellery making and designing skills. 25 girls were absorbed into their jewelry making unit, engaged with them from March to May, with a stipend of Rs. 2000. Furthermore, 14 girls were enrolled into both short-term and long-term vocational courses such as cyber law, and also trained to become dialysis technicians, medical lab technicians, general duty assistants, hairdressers etc. Kshamata also works with potential employers to help the women find jobs suited to their newly acquired skills. The background of the women is kept confidential, and the employers are sensitised through meetings and conversations. A total of 24 girls have found jobs as lab technicians, retail assistants, beauty parlour specialists, jewellery designers etc. 2 smaller satellite Kshamata Transformation Centres with the same features were also set up close to the parent residential centre, in order to serve more survivors, and 10 women currently reside in these units.
SBI Gram Seva
Joining the colossal SHG movement that has the potential to revolutionise women’s rights in India, SBI Foundation, through its flagship ‘SBI Gram Seva’ program executes a variety of integrated development interventions in its adopted villages. The program has aided in the creation of 129 new SHGs and conducted training sessions and camps on women’s rights, maternal care, menstrual hygiene, livelihood activities etc.
Custom hiring Centres were set up in the adopted villages to drive access to farm machinery to automate drudgery-inducing functions that are mainly performed by women. Sprayers, seeders, tillers, weeders, woodcutters have been provided to Farmers’ User Groups.
Financial support has also been extended to SHGs for group activities such as tailoring, weaving, incense sticks making etc. 19 SBI-Prerna Centres have been established to facilitate entrepreneurial activities and provide entrepreneurial training and capacity building, and 951 women have undergone these sessions so far. Besides this, 1386 community awareness programs on subjects ranging from family planning, malnutrition, menstrual hygiene, breast feeding, sanitary hygiene, glaucoma, banking, health & hygiene etc. have been conducted. The team also conducted door-to-door awareness campaigns as well as sessions in schools on sanitation-based subjects like open defecation, hand washing, waste segregation and clean surroundings.
Swasth Mahila, Swasth Goa
Breast cancer accounts for 25% of all cancer cases in Goa, and studies have attributed its high incidence to changes in lifestyle, late marriage etc. So, during ‘Pinktober’ last year – the month dedicated to breast cancer awareness globally - SBI Foundation and the Indian Institute of Banking & Finance partnered with Yuvraj Singh’s YouWeCan Foundation in their fight against cancer, by launching the ‘Swasth Mahila, Swasth Goa’ initiative. This mammoth Rs. 1.8 crore two-year project was designed to encourage early detection and timely treatment of breast cancer. With the goal of screening 1 lakh women, nearly 35,000 women have been screened so far using 20 high-tech portable iBreast Exam (iBE) devices, divided equally between both the districts of the state, across district hospitals, primary health centres (PHCs), community health centres (CHCs) and at the urban health centre level along with multiple outreach camps. These handheld, fully wireless and non-invasive iBreast devices accurately assess and identify tissue elasticity differences between hard and stiff breast tissue versus normal breast tissue for the most underserved women in the remotest areas of Goa.
This project has proven to be the difference between life and death for many of its beneficiaries, as 957 women were found to be at risk and were advised to seek further direction and diagnosis, while 15 have been diagnosed with the disease so far. Upon testing positive in the examination, the patients are being referred for breast ultrasounds or mammograms, depending upon the case. The surgeries will be performed at the district hospitals and medical management of the patients will be monitored under supervision of noted oncologist Dr. Anupama Borkar, Head of Medical Oncology, GMCH, Goa. The medical team will also track and follow-up on the cases, if positive, till the treatment is complete and undertake quarterly follow-ups for up to one year for negative cases.