India is booming… it has become an economic powerhouse with global impact. The financial hub in Mumbai is on fire, as are thriving industries from Bangalore to Uttar Pradesh, and let’s not forget Bollywood cinema.
India is a democracy and a place where women have held high political office including President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and Leader of the Opposition. In urban India girls are nearly on par with boys in terms of education. Urban women also have a high level of participation in the workforce-- 30% of software industry workers are women. Yet India is still rated the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women (and the worst of the G20 nations). High levels of rape, child marriage, domestic violence, sex trafficking and infanticide are some of the horrors far too many Indian women encounter. Women are particularly struggling in the rural areas where school enrolment rates are significantly lower than in the cities, dropout rates higher, and many girls have to work long hours at an early age to support their families.
In one of these rural areas, the Murshidabad district in West Bengal State, Katherine Neumann has set up House of Wandering Silk. She sources beautiful vintage fabrics and partners with a cooperative of 1,400 women – predominantly Muslim – from 40 rural villages to create beautiful “kantha” scarves and other accessories. Much of the work can be done in the privacy of the women’s homes allowing women from even conservative families to participate. In addition to the improved economic status kantha has brought to many families, the cooperative takes 30% of the revenue of the work to support the women by providing medical assistance, money for the poor, and gifts during religious holidays. Katherine’s initiative is a great example of what can be accomplished when one woman sets out to help other women.