At the home décor workshop in Bhopal, India, it was my pleasure to interview the female artisans about their experience, what constitutes fair wages, and the salary they receive. I was primarily interested in learning if they are happy with their work and their working conditions. What I found is that the home décor business has been providing embroidery work for over 150 women living in villages on the outskirts of Bhopal, India for the past 10 years. The women do the hand embroidery work from home, usually in the evening after they have finished the household duties. Most of these women are Muslim and because of their religion, many of the women are not allowed to work outside of the home. Embroidery work is one of the few occupations the women are socially and religiously allowed to do.
The women use the money they earn to buy food, medicine or to improve the conditions of the household. Earning fair wages is deeply important. Money they earn is usually supplemental to whatever the husband earns, but it is always used on necessities. Some of the women have been left by their husbands and for them the money is necessary in order to take care of their children. Most of the women are in their 20s and have an average of one to three children.
As I talked to these women, I could tell by the smiles on their faces that they were happy. The manager’s wife sat in the middle of all them like a big sister and they laughed and talked as they showed each other their work. There was even a sense of healthy competition, like a family, seeing who can stitch faster. Those who had young children (too young to be in school) brought their children with them and as they worked. They took frequent breaks to hold or play with their children. They said that they enjoy earning their own money, and that the extra money makes them feel like they are a not burden to the household.
I learned from the manager that the business, like most businesses, is struggling with bills and, at the same time, customers who want discounts and an increasingly lower price. One of their biggest problems is a lack of enough work for all who want it. The workshop gives work first to those who are desperately in need, and to those who are working the hardest. I believe this business would benefit from fair trade certification, which the owner is working towards. They need more customers and more awareness of what their mission is, providing sustainable jobs with fair wages to marginalized women in the outskirts of Bhopal, India.
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