In a small room in a home in Turiya, central India, 12 women are holding a meeting. The meeting takes place once a week and is part of an initiative by Satpuda Foundation, a partner of Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme, to encourage women to start their own micro-businesses and earn their own money.
The initiative has been running for three years and there are 10 similar groups in nearby villages. At today’s meeting, the women are considering selling local teas or homemade bags to local resort hotels. This group started out in 2015 selling pickles. They invested the money they earned into a meal plan (like a takeaway) for the village.
It’s radical thinking for a rural Indian village where women are traditionally expected to stay at home. But it’s working. Living with Tigers has found that despite early reluctance from men in the village, the groups have been well received.
The women say they enjoy working together. In a group, they are successful, so if one member fails, they can all support her. The leader of the group, Sandhya Daherwal, runs her own micro-business – a small shop in the centre of the village. Established in 2016, her shop sells cosmetics, beauty products and accessories for women. Sandhya says her takings are about £2-£3 a day and she really enjoys running her shop and meeting her customers.
In a home a couple of streets away, four women have gathered after their morning shift as tourist guides in the nearby Pench National Park. The women were all trained by Satpuda Foundation to become tourist guides.
A total of 29 women were trained four years ago, 10 of whom were from Turiya. Recruited by the government’s Forestry Department, they go out into the national park with tourists and a driver once a day to spot wildlife and answer questions.
The first women to take on the role were badly treated. The men who were already guides would push them to the back of the queue, and people in Turiya were shocked the women were working and wearing tourist guide uniforms, rather than traditional saris.
However, four years on, the locals have become much more accepting and there is now competition for recruitment among women. The reaction from tourists on the vehicles they go into the park with is also very positive. And, most importantly, the women are proud of their jobs. They love wildlife and are keen to share this love with the many tourists who visit the national park. They also enjoy earning money to help support their families.
Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme is keen to expand these initiatives to more villages across the Satpuda region of central India so that even more women can be supported, encouraged and empowered.