Ms. Aparna Bhat learnt about the concept of Social Entrepreneurship during her Masters at IE University in Spain and has since been fascinated with the concept of ‘doing well by doing good’. She loves teaching and is passionate about the issue of the quality of education in India. She currently works at an innovation accelerator called Ennovent and hopes to use this experience to someday start an enterprise in the education space.
Thank you Ms. Bhat for honouring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with this gesture
Over to Ms. Bhat……
About 3 years ago, I started with some friends a skill development initiative called ‘Ansuya’ (learned women in Sanskrit) at a slum in Mumbai. The idea was to economically empower young women from low income backgrounds so that they may be able to take up certain skill based vocations, earn a living, and potentially escape the domestic violence that I know a lot of these women are victims of. We worked with these young women to enhance the skills that they already possess, helped them make products out of it, sold it for them and gave them the profit earned. This was a very rudimentary idea at that stage since I knew very little about setting up a social business, but broadly the mission was to help them become entrepreneurs. Thus, apart from teaching them vocational skills such as embroidery and fabric painting, we also taught basic spoken English, mathematics, basic costing, public speaking and other such supplementary skills. These classes allowed me to interact with these young women for long periods of time and understand deeply their lives, their thoughts, their observations and their opinions. Due to the faith they placed in me as a teacher, I was to some extent able to put them in a situation where they openly debate and question the context that they live in. While teaching them, I also started to question whether my short term goal of economically empowering them will lead to the ultimate goal of helping them question and potentially break out of the cage of patriarchy we all are bound by.
The situation of the woman who works at our house helped me realize that this ultimate goal will not be achieved through economic empowerment. Asha works as the help in a few houses and therefore has a much better and steadier income than her husband who is a contract based painter. She plans well, invests her money, and provides her children with a decent standard of living and education. She is economically empowered, just as I wanted my students from Ansuya to be. However, when her husband comes home drunk and beats her, she does not defend herself despite having the physical strength to do so. Not only does she meekly face the violence, she does not even question it. Asha, like the rest of our society, is bound by patriarchy. This has unfortunately become the way of life for all men and women in our society; it is the only way we know how to function and defines our roles and interpersonal interactions. It is therefore perpetrated by all of us from generation to generation as culture and tradition, along with the ideal of not questioning it. I realized from my experience at Ansuya that mere economic empowerment does not break these bounds, that a monumental eye opener is rather required. Just as Emma Watson highlighted in her speech at the UN, it is essential for both men and women to question and break this cage of patriarchy since men are also bound by the rules of our patriarchal society that requires them to be the provider, hide their emotions, take care of the family, face problems on their own to keep their wife happy, take up certain ‘manly’ professions, etc.
As I highlighted earlier, the cage of patriarchy limits us all, irrespective of the strata of society and the economic empowerment of women. As we are working on game changing ideas to deal with developmental issues, it is important that we work on better education and other such means to act as platforms for the necessary eye opener. On a personal front, I would like to go back to Ansuya, exactly identify how to discuss and bring out this issue so that we can collectively question and make it happen.