Like all communities around the world, slum communities are made up of family groups. And just like other communities, there are traditions and belief structures that are also a part of family life. Many of the families living in the slum’s around ConneXions come from very conservative backgrounds and small villages in rural areas. They were forced to move due to the poverty they faced in the villages and have tried their luck in the city of Kolkata. Urbanisation is a global phenomenon and in India, there is now have 34% of the population living in cities. It is now estimated that 1/3rd of Kolkata’s population are living in substandard slums.
There are two type of slums registered (bustees) and unregistered. The registered slums have generally been established for longer periods of time and have some recognition by the government. This recognition has created a sense of permanence and basic services have even been supplied to help the communities – toilet blocks, electricity lines, sewers, water pipes and pavements. Maintenance of these facilities is minimal and the infrastructure provision is woefully inadequate for the population. 20 families (80+) people sharing a single toilet is an example.
Unregistered slums have no sense of permanence and can be destroyed at the will of local authorities. They have no services or infrastructure and are generally positioned in vacant areas such as beside railway lines.
Over 40% of the people living in Kolkata slums have been there for two generations or more and most originated from Kolkata’s hinterland. The average monthly wage for a household (5 -6 people) is 1700 - 5000 rupees equivalent to $6.80 - $68.00 USD and involves 6 - 7 days a week labour. The poverty line (as assessed by the World Bank) currently sits at $1.90 a day. This equates to 3640 rupees per month (on a 6 day week). However, a living wage is another story altogether and would be approximately 9000 rupees per month.
For women in these communities there are many pressures as all the household and highly labour intensive jobs fall on their shoulders. They have little in the way of modern conveniences and combined with brutal weather extremes life is exhausting. Carrying and storing water for cooking, bathing and washing is essential as the communal water taps are only turned on twice a day. Hand washing the family’s clothes, caring for children, daily shopping and cooking meals from scratch over kerosene burners or small fires. On top of this many are domestic workers frequently exploited and paid very little for their labour.
Other women (due to traditional customs) are not allowed to seek extra employment to supplement the family’s income. Working outside the home is seen as reflecting badly on their husbands and compound their sense of shame in not being able to adequately provide for their families.
ConneXions is established within these communities and provides a lifeline to hard-working, talented women. The feature of home based work options is particularly important as it opens the door of empowerment to women who would otherwise be shut out due to the restrictions placed upon them.
Being able to stay within their community boundaries, collect raw materials, then work from their homes to produce remarkable products that are loved and appreciated by people around the world, is life-giving. Add to this a fair payment for their valuable labour and producing products becomes life-changing as well.
Some of ConneXions women are earning more money in a month (working part-time around their many other responsibilities) than their husbands are, working 6 days a week. Husbands and communities begin to reconsider their value in the light of their ability to provide for the family and the obvious skill they have. Their influence and power within the family unit shifts and they have an increasing voice and confidence. Many of ConneXions women are educating their children, including their daughters, in the hope that this generation will be the last to grow up in a slum. It is breaking the intergenerational shackles of poverty.
So when you purchase a blanket, a bag or some cards you are not simply buying something beautifully handcrafted you are reaching across the world and extending your hand to another woman, giving her a hand up appreciating her value and respecting her labour and skill.