Sun, Dec 11, 2016 | updated 07:41 AM IST

A Safety Net for Ladakhi Women

Updated: Jul 06, 2016 14:17 IST

By Spalzes Wangmo

Leh (Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir), July 6 (ANI): Although Women Self Help Groups (SHG) in Ladakh function for a mere three months in a year, they speak of a growth story.

Lakzos Tsogspa, an SHG in Mudh village, Changthang, has come a long way since its formation in 2007 with 13 women. Member and former President Tsering Yandol, 54 recalls with a sense of pride how they began with a contribution of INR 10 from each member that grew to INR 50.

During winter months, when finding work even as labourers is difficult for women, SHGs offer a safe haven to engage in income generating activities. Debring Tsogspa, is one such SHG initiated by women who come down from upper reaches of Changthang to Leh city. Women here are engaged in weaving traditional carpets, or 'tsugdn'.

Besides giving women an alternate option to earn their livelihoods near their homes, SHGs have helped revive traditional craft of the region such as carpet weaving.

Although some of the women inherited the skill from their parents, many picked it up at the centre itself. The Shashi SHG formed in 2010 in Chuchot village actively promotes a variety of local handicraft at the district and state level.

"We buy wool from Changthang for INR 450 for 2 kg and we charge INR 9,500 for each pair in the market. Our profit has gone up compared to what we would earn initially," says Tsering Lanzom, president of the SHG.

During the winter months when labour work is not easily available, the group earns approximately around INR 30,000 to INR 40,000.

The alternate source of income has led women to a path of independence that was only partially open to them.

Tashi Chonzom, 35, in Nyoma village, used to work as a labourer in works undertaken by the Indian Army that has a prominent presence in Ladakh. Things got tough when she was going through her divorce, that too when she was pregnant with her first child.

Tashi was worried, knowing that her wages as a labourer were too meagre to bring up her child. Her involvement with the SHG at this juncture proved to be a blessing.

With a radiant smile, she says, "In the summer I work as labourer with Army. With my increased earnings I can educate my child and dream of better future."

The Indian Army has a sizable presence in Ladakh.

Many women feel that the additional income has led them to another level of independence.

Chonzom Zangmo, 40 who moved to Leh from Changthang to be with her three children, studying in the city says "Although you don't become completely self-independent, you feel good that you don't have to depend only on your husband for money."

With increased earnings, women are able to contribute to social and cultural life of their community.

"Sometimes, from our savings, we donate for various purposes in the village including restoration of monasteries," they say with a sense of quiet pride.

Several SHGs undertake to keep water bodies clean and protect the ecology of this cold desert. Others work to raise awareness on issues of health and hygiene amongst the community.

The SHG movement that began in the 80's has paved the way for economic and social empowerment of women groups across the country. In Ladakh, however, the movement began nearly a decade later, around 1995, when the first SHGs were established under the Watershed Development Programme.

Since then, noting its transformational aspect, several NGOs and government agencies have facilitated their growth.

Ishey Paljor, Project Executive Director, Leh Nutrition Project that has provided resources and skills training to several groups, has been witness to this growth.

"SHGs have not only lessened women's dependency on men but also empowered them in a larger sense. It has given them a new confidence. Women's participation in decision-making has increased," she states.

There seems to be a world out there waiting to be discovered. It is heartening for women to know that their idle time in the bitter cold of winter can be put to productive use.

Learning new skills and earning an additional income has made a huge difference to women who were on the edge. Strengthened in their skills and earning capacities, they are able to contribute more into their roles within the family and into the larger community.

And the craft of the region has flourished, got a new lease of life. Late to emerge, SHGs are today a distinct presence in Ladakh and are slated to grow. (ANI)