Standing up for womankind comes in many shapes and forms
Way back in the 1980s, a woman who wanted to start a business wasn’t taken very seriously. Especially coming from a traditional Sindhi family like mine, every step was a battle. Whether it was starting the business on my bedroom balcony and scaling it up or convincing a mall promoter to give me space to start my first store, there were challenges at every step.
The thing is, standing up for womankind comes in many shapes and forms. To me it’s designing clothes that allow women to feel like they belong in a world where we are still working towards finding an equal space. It is also helping women who don’t have the same opportunities as I had find the independence they seek and helping the men in their lives recognise these beautiful women outside the constraints of the patriarchy they were raised in. Consider this statistic – an increase of 1 per cent in the number of girls who have completed secondary education boosts annual per capita income growth ( the rate at which the whole country’s economy is growing) by 0.3 per cent. If we educate girls, entire countries can raise themselves out of poverty more quickly. Studies by the un have found that communities with visibly empowered women have healthier economies, lower cases of child mortality and malnutrition, significantly higher education levels across genders, and lower disparity in education amongst boys and girls. This is where the House of Anita Dongre, and the team we have spent years building, comes in.
A quick Google search defines Corporate Social Responsibility (csr) as “an approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders”. My hope is to build a reality where every company, starting with mine, not only contributes to sustainable development but makes it a core part of business.
One of the greatest challenges we have noticed for women, especially in traditional Indian communities whether rural or urban, has been the direct correlation between contribution to the family income and weight of opinion in families/society. With fewer jobs available in villages, families are ripped apart with men travelling to cities in search of a livelihood while women stay home to care for the children, old and sick. These are villages with no job opportunities other than dwindling agricultural incomes. The problem is apparent and as an industry there is a solution that is mutually beneficial – to create production units in these villages that create income opportunities for both men and women so that dependable income and thus financial independence, is accessible.
At House of Anita Dongre, we have partnered with government agencies, other companies and local village Panchayats, to train women in two villages – Charoti and Jawahar, to cut, sew and finish clothes. Charoti, where this programme has run for two years now has seen a deep socioeconomic improvement. For example, malnutrition, especially amongst children, was alarmingly common in this village. But with women now earning locally and controlling spends there have been significantly fewer cases in recent times. The obvious benefit of such projects to these rural economies coupled with the integration to our supply chain has made this project a core business function with six such centres scheduled to launch just this year. Additionally, Anita Dongre Grassroot makes it a point to use handcrafts from the villages of India to create contemporary fashion. In each case we work on training individuals, where required, to bring
jobs back to villages thus contributing to a rural economy while strongly integrating this effort with our business requirement of producing fashion.
The first step in the process towards a sustainable model is to embed social and environmental considerations into our core function and align it to every aspect of the business. Indulging in csr ventures that function at random, almost as pet projects, is a dilution of corporate effort. On the other hand, to believe that companies hold no ethical responsibility to investigate and improve their impact on the environment and society is absurd. We must not lay the onus of such a large task entirely on the government but partner with them to do more in shaping the world we want to live in. For me, this is where men and women are seen as equal with encouragement to rise to one’s potential, irrespective of gender.
The point I’m making is that simply adhering to a csr law that dictates redistribution of a share of profits does nothing in the larger context. As corporate decision makers we need to reevaluate the purpose of business and lead change.