21st-century India is witnessing the position of  women in matters of rural development and sustainable livelihoods gradually changing for the better. Various initiatives now center on empowering women socially and economically including in Meghalaya where community-tailored projects such as the Community-Led Landscape Management Project (CLLMP) and the Meghalaya Livelihoods and Access to Markets Project (Megha-LAMP) have given weight to establishing enabling environments for transforming long-standing gender inequalities. The former is mandated to promote NRM best practices across the State and has mobilized Village Community Facilitators (VCF) to carry out sensitization and facilitate community-led NRM planning and implementation on the field. Each village is supported by three VCFs and one has to be a woman. Megha-LAMP has put in place a dedicated gender team to enhance women’s participation in community institutions and decisionmaking to help strengthen their standings. A model example of women empowerment can be found in Jani Mawiong Village in East Khasi Hills where through CLLMP’s intervention, three women members now preside over the top leadership positions of the Village’s NRM committee– the roles of president, secretary, and treasurer – a first recorded and unprecedented occasion across any rural setting in Meghalaya.

In agriculture, women’s increased participation and contributions are closing the gender gap. NGO Oxfam India reports that as of 2018, 33% of the agriculture labour force comprises women while 48% are self-employed farmers. This figure will only trend upwards given that significant numbers of men in agriculture are migrating to cities in search of job security. This has made women’s contributions all the more crucial as aside from the traditional household and domestic obligations, they are now tasked with labour-intensive roles on farms to sustain incomes and food security for their families. Hence, women are becoming instinctively empowered and independent, indicating a paradigm shift towards equal opportunity and perhaps one day, even egalitarianism, but to advance the status quo, they must be provided with support services that include access to agricultural input and credit facilities, skill enhancement programs, and tools and technology, among others.

But the non-farm sector is where women’s contributions have generally been most visible. In Meghalaya, women have always stood out for their strong participation and efficient use of resources in handicraft, horticulture, baking, food processing, and animal husbandry. These are other illustrations of productive employment where women are playing valuable roles in progressing the village economy such as the Leisure Time Earning (Kamai Haba Shongkai) activity in Raid Iapngar, Ri Bhoi District, innovated by Iaishah Rymbai.

According to Iashah, Leisure Time Earning, by definition, is an activity that enables women to earn additional income through weaving and spinning yarn in their free time. The school teacher stated that she spends her after-work hours engaged in the activity, a personal hobby that started at a young age when she learned from her mother. Through the years, her reputation as a gifted weaver grew across the region. She planned to scale up, but there were very few women who were interested in an activity that was common in the past but that had lost momentum and waned in popularity because of the poor linkage to remunerative markets and buyers.

To overturn this, she teamed up with the Raid Iapngar Handloom Weaver Cooperative Society in 2019 to create awareness of the potential of eri silk as a good source of livelihood for enterprising women and put the abundance of eri silk in the region into good use. Women were recruited and trained in yarn production and efficient ways of spinning and weaving. There was sensitization on the value of time and work and an introduction of the activity in the (Socially Useful Productive Work) Arts subject in schools. This all led to the revival of a lost tradition.

Iaishah received funding support from PRIME, the Cooperation Department, the Department of Sericulture and Weaving, the Block Office, the SELCO foundation, and the local MLA. Her initiative quickly became renowned across the State. Today, there are about 300 eri silk farmers and 15 full-time spinners and weavers from Raid Iapngar’s cluster of villages (which are Mawtneng, Nongrim, Nongladaw, Liarkhla, Liarbang, Kdonghula, and Thadnongiaw) working leisurely to produce some of the finest traditional women’s attires in Meghalaya – stoles, shawls, and wraparounds. Customers can find these products at various markets including retail outlets in Shillong where she supplies weekly. They can also find these silk brands at Iaishah’s ‘EriWeave’, her exclusive outlet in Kdonghulu, Ri Bhoi District. Prices range from Rs. 2500 to Rs. 3000 per meter. Revenue has also multiplied manyfold. In 2019, Rs. 20,000 was generated. By 2021, the revenue had become a handsome Rs. 40 lakhs. Iashah aims to generate Rs. 1 crore by 2024.

One of the farmers, Felicia Rymbai stated that many in Raid Iapngar have always had the talent, but it was never developed because the line of work had previously not translated into sustainable livelihoods. Since the intervention, that school of thought has changed completely as women would return from the farms or their household chores to start weaving and spinning and earn extra income while engaging in friendly conversations. She stated that what has been most rewarding is the creation of jobs for the women in her community. What has been most empowering, however, is to watch them take ownership of the activity and contribute to sustainable and inclusive development after being afforded a positive and enabling work environment.

Video Link : https://youtu.be/2H2qmGOJjcA


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