While collecting data from the slums in Pune and Sangli, Shelter Associates noticed that among the urban poor, women were far less likely to be employed than men. When they were employed, their jobs were often poorly paid, precarious, and unsafe.
But those who had jobs were in the minority: most women were unemployed and had no means of supporting themselves or their families.
The women in the slums of Pune and Sangli desperately need a way to support themselves and their families. Shelter Associates is working to provide them with a sustainable way of earning an income.
Shelter Associates decided to help by starting an income generation project. In considering potential projects, they looked for one that would help the women but would also be environmentally sensitive. Shelter had long been aware of the buildup of plastic waste and, through developing the Saree Bag Project, found a way to help women in the slums and improve the environment.
In the Sangli slums, only 30% of women are employed, compared to almost 70% in the slums of Pune. The project involves teaching women how to sew reusable shopping bags out of old sarees and discarded fabric. Shelter Associates is currently exploring different markets for the bags, both locally and abroad. The money generated from the bags will provide the women with a consistent and sustainable means of support. The project also allows the women to stitch the bags at home, so that they do not have to leave their children to find work.
The bags serve as a practical alternative to plastic shopping bags and promote a cleaner and healthier environment.
How It Works
Every saree bag is handmade by a woman in Pune or Sangli, which gives each one a personal touch. The bags come in different sizes and in different colors, and each one is unique.
The bags are designed to be strong, sturdy, and easily collapsible. This makes them ideal reusable shopping bags. The smallest bags can safely carry 10 lbs, and the largest bags can carry around 30 lbs. When the bags are not being used, they can be stuffed into their convenient inner pockets, making them small enough to fit in a purse or even a pocket.
Currently, Shelter Associates is focusing on training women who already have a basic knowledge of sewing. Shelter Associates teaches these women how to make the saree bags by building on the skills they already have.
Being able to earn a consistent income and help support their families gives the women confidence, increased independence, and a stronger voice in family and community decisions.
Shelter Associates is also working on a more comprehensive training programme that will be targeted towards women with no prior knowledge of sewing. This programme will teach the women basic sewing skills, with which they can learn how to make the bags. The programme will also teach the women the other aspects of the Saree Bag Project, including how to collect used sarees and discarded fabric, how to recruit and train other women to sew the bags, and how to sell them in local markets. With this programme, the women will have all of the information they need to run the project themselves.
Many people in Pune and Sangli use plastic bags to do their daily chores and shopping. When these bags are worn out, they are thrown away and eventually burned in trash bins. The buildup of plastic waste and the burning of trash are extremely harmful to the environment and hazardous to human health. Plastic bags are also harmful to animals that mistakenly ingest them.
The proliferation of plastic waste is not only a problem in Pune and Sangli, it is a global issue. Shelter Associates is working to combat the buildup of plastic waste through the use of reusable shopping bags sewn by women from the slums. The saree bags provide a practical alternative to plastic shopping bags and serve as a reminder to protect the environment.