As a stay-at-home mom, Rajpal Kaur always dreamt of being employed but there were no jobs available for women in her native village in Ludhiana, Punjab. But, opportunity knocked on her door at the age of 34 when she was offered a job by the RoundGlass Foundation as a cook at one of its sports facilities. “I was happy cooking for the kids. I was earning Rs 8,000 per month, which went a long way in supplementing our household income,” Kaur says.
Kaur’s daughter, Simran (20), left school after Class 10, but after Kaur started working in 2019, she was motivated to get her daughter to study further. Kaur, who only studied up to Class 5, didn’t want her daughter to be forced to be a homemaker due to a lack of opportunities. Simran later enrolled in an open school and completed higher secondary education and is now studying physiotherapy at a nursing college in Ludhiana. Kaur’s son Sukhpreet (21) is a mechanic and Sukhjeet (17) a student.
Having experienced first-hand how financial well-being can improve one’s life, Kaur wanted other women in her village to get similar opportunities for meaningful self-employment. Over two years ago, when she heard that the RoundGlass Foundation was planning to set up a sanitary pad-making unit in the Aloona Tola village, she rounded up her friends and took them to the Foundation’s office to understand what the project entailed.
Breaking the barriers
Due to prevailing menstruation stigma, many of the women were embarrassed to be a part of such a venture. However, Kaur was able to convince them that this would not only provide employment opportunities but also help them access affordable sanitary products, a major barrier for women in the village.
In many parts of the country, menstrual hygiene is still not prioritized as there is a lack of awareness and access to affordable menstrual products. According to data from the World Economic Forum, 88% of menstruators in the country use homemade alternatives such as old cloth, rags, hay, sand or ash, leading to gynecological problems.
Kaur was determined to lead the change and formed a self-help group (SHG) of 11 people, where five would work at the pad-making unit while the rest went on to work at the pickle-making venture. “Initially, we had to give away pads for free. But things have started looking up as we are now receiving bulk orders,” she says. They recently got an order for 600 pads from a girls’ high school in Ludhiana and another for 1,000 pads from a school in Mohali.
The RoundGlass Foundation has been instrumental in setting up women’s SHGs to create a new generation of financially empowered women in villages like Aloona Tola. It currently runs five such groups across Punjab and has helped 18 women increase their family income. They have also been conducting menstrual health and hygiene awareness-building workshops, educating more than 2,500 girls in over 50 villages.
Between October 2019-March 2020, the Foundation did door-to-door visits spreading awareness and teaching 300 women to use pads.
Improving the lives of the community
“Since we came together, we have arranged for training in sewing and pickle-making for women in Aloona Tola and our neighboring villages. We want more women to become aware and self-dependent like us,” remarks Kaur. Kaur is supported by her husband who cooks and brings meals to her workplace.
As president of the SHG, Kaur intends on leveraging the group to help local women improve their lives. “Our SHG is like a family. We try to reach out and help other women in any way we can,” she says. They also provided free meals and distributed masks among villagers during the initial lockdown due to COVID-19.
As for Kaur, her dreams are centered around her children and with her monthly salary bolstering the family income, she will be able to provide a solid foundation for them to build their future.
(Edited by Sanhati Banerjee)