WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE CO-OP?
- Jonit Bookheim
- 12 Oct, 2011
Mata Traders’ fair trade clothing is made in India and Nepal by women’s cooperatives. Last summer I got the chance to visit three of them. I had a great time meeting all the women and getting to know their stories. I even interviewed several women on video with the translation help of social worker, Sampada, who took me on a tour of her co-op.
The women who join the co-op come from very poor communities. In fact, there is an upper income limit to be considered for membership. Most of the women have no prior training and little or no schooling. Besides literacy and math training, the co-op provides health care, overtime pay, vision checks and glasses, on-site daycare, financial literacy and retirement benefits.
When I asked the women what they like about working at the co-op, probably the most common answer was the camaraderie of the other women. They are all happy to have found each other and to have formed such strong friendships. They feel a lot of support.
India is a traditional society where a woman moves in with her husband’s family after marriage and doesn’t usually work outside the house. When the women start at the co-op, many of them are a bit shy and timid and haven’t quite come into their own. I mention this because another popular response to that question is the increased confidence it has given them. Their participation in the co-op empowers them to navigate their own lives. One woman told me that before she started at the co-op, she never rode buses because she could not read the bus numbers. Now she travels around the city by bus without problem. As Sampada explained, “First they are like, ‘meow.’ Then they are a tiger of the Center.”
I would say that the third most common reason given for why the women like their work is the income. Invariably, they spend it on their children’s education. Below is Manju Carol and her daughter Dimple. Her response was, “I am contributing to the family income. I can pay my children’s school fees and get them good things. I have been independent with my own pocket money.”
We have a few more fair trade stories from our visits to the co-ops on our website. You can also watch an interview with one of the co-op members, Nandhini, on our YouTube channel.