The Society for Nutrition, Education, and Health Action (SNEHA) is a secular non-profit located in Mumbai with a clear goal to empower women through health and prevention of violence to attain viable urban communities. In addition to improving health standards, SNEHA looks to provide women with gainful employment by teaching them the basics of stitching and using sewing machines.
While their initial approach to development by establishing equality in health care, providing empowerment of women through sexual and reproductive health, reducing malnutrition in children, etc., is admirable, their next step seems rather misguided.
Development in the West, particularly in the United States, showed that growth and development can happen without the input of women, and rights can be given to them later. However, whether or not this path should be followed is a different story.
Development can take multiple paths, and empowerment of women should be one of the underlying factors for the future growth of any area. And yet, SNEHA rely on stereotypes to guide their “empowerment” of women. Instead of going beyond the scope of what constitutes “women’s work”, they have deemed it appropriate to perpetuate stereotypes by providing women with a “livelihood” which is hugely outdated and extremely limiting in its scope.
Providing women with skills to be used for their own benefit, rather than that of another individual, can break them from of their dependency on another, skilled individual. Yet, attempting to do so through such a skillset as stitching could entrench the same, lower view of women that persists. Yes, it may provide some independence, but no lasting change will be enjoyed due to the limiting nature of this occupation and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.
SNEHA is on the right path, but offering alternative forms of empowerment may yield better results.