Rebuilding lives in conflict zones in Jammu and Kashmir, India
“The training at SEWA was life-changing. I became a strong, confident and determined girl from a shy and limited speaker. The stories of overcoming struggle in spite of all odds of the SEWA women, brought me confidence that I can also do.”Rubina Akhtar, 21-year-old single parent from Kupwara, Kashmir
In Jammu and Kashmir, prolonged regional conflict and recurring natural disasters have challenged the safety and economic security of rural people. Through the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), rural women are gaining vocational and managerial skills to help rebuild their own communities.
Training in livelihoods and business management enabled rural women to increase their incomes and food security, as well as help rebuild fragile local economies.
Sisterhood and solidarity
Through SEWA’s exposure visits and training programs, rural women could begin to form support networks to help them cope with the psychological challenges of conflict.
EXPLORE THIS SOLUTION
The SEWA project can offer:
- a model for rebuilding life in conflict zones; and
- lessons in providing social support networks for rural women
Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
2009 - present
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In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, prolonged regional conflict and recurring natural disasters have challenged the safety and economic security of rural people. As attacks claim the lives of many husbands and sons, women are left to provide for their families with what little education they have. Through the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), rural women are gaining vocational and managerial skills to help rebuild their own communities.
In Jammu and Kashmir, rural women face not only the challenges of poverty but also the consequences of prolonged regional conflict. Thousands of people have died, and many more have been left with physical disabilities. Because the majority of victims have been men, many women are now responsible for providing for their families, even though they may lack education or viable livelihoods.
The region brings social challenges as well. Instability has been normalized over decades of conflict, and surviving community members need to cope with the grief and trauma the fighting has caused. Additionally, natural disasters like floods further increase hardship, pushing rural people toward illegal sources of income. The result is even greater instability and insecurity for rural people in the region.
In conflict-affected Jammu and Kashmir, rural women are rebuilding their lives through the Self-Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA) programs, which offer regional exposure, vocational and managerial training and opportunities for rural women to build support networks. Through close communication with the affected women, SEWA developed strategies to respond to each community’s specific needs.
Because instability has become normalized in the region, SEWA invited local women’s groups to its headquarters to help rural women realize the possibility of overcoming the social and economic challenges they face on a daily basis. As a result of this exposure, the women’s groups realized how economic security could empower them to better address the social challenges facing their communities.
Because many of the women lacked education and experience, SEWA also fostered women-to-women knowledge-sharing and capacity-building. SEWA started by developing a cadre of 558 local master trainers to share vocational and managerial skills, which enabled the rural women to start their own microenterprises. SEWA then trained more women to further disseminate knowledge, and there are now about 5,000 trainers in 100 villages. Through SEWA’s efforts, rural women are now working in tailoring, handicrafts, agriculture, solar energy and food processing. Because the women’s village homes are so remote, SEWA has also provided value chain support.
Beyond the economic benefits, the project has also helped rural women develop new social ties. In Kupwara District, the Shahjar Community Business Resource Centre (SCRC) that SEWA created helped rural women find greater sisterhood and self-confidence. The relationships formed there helped foster the optimism and determination necessary to develop fragile local economies and overcome the ongoing trauma that still lingers from the conflict.
- Conflict-affected women registered their own economic organization (Shehjar District Association Kupwara) on June 20, 2017. This recognition helps the organization strengthen its voice and visibility in mainstream society.
- Some of the women have started their own enterprises such as boutiques, crafts and stitching centres. As a result of their enhanced skills, some women are now fulfilling production orders for reputable designers.
- Further, activities related to agriculture, the horticulture supply chain, farm management and renewable energy have been conducted in Kupwara. The Kupwara Centre has also created a partnership to sell apples to Coca-Cola.
- SEWA has helped connect Kashmiri artisans with leading designers, introducing Kashmiri embroidery in fashion samples. Local artisans work from home and send over their designs.
- By working in their own villages, rural women achieved greater dignity and self-respect.
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
In Jammu and Kashmir, SEWA’s interventions demonstrated how economic and social support can help women in conflict-affected regions rebuild their communities. Organizing exposure visits for rural women and training trainers at SEWA enabled women to share experiences, building skills, self-confidence and social networks. By meeting others who had been in the same situation as them, rural women felt less isolated and realized that it was possible to change their lives. When combined with programs to integrate women into economic activities, SEWA’s approach could increase the pace of development and food security. There is potential to roll out programmes across south Asia.
The Shehjar District Association Kupwara, a newly registered economic organization created during the project, aims to further encourage self-sustainability by offering training for business management. It also plans to reach out to new members, utilizing technology and innovation to help them find work as well as find positivity in day-to-day challenges. Additionally, by linking women with government schemes, the centre plans to better bridge the gap between government and communities.
Last update: 07/10/2020