by Corinne Yank, GoPhil Communications Manager

The Women’s Upliftment Project at GoPhil partner AVANI fights for the rights, dignity and respect of marginalized women living and working in low-income, waste picking communities in the Kolhapur district in India.

Prior to AVANI’s involvement in these communities, waste picking was unorganized and informal labor, which meant little to no recognition, protection or support from the local government. Women working as waste pickers were earning barely enough to support their most basic day-to-day living expenses, meaning most could not afford to send their children to school. Many of the women experienced relentless violence, both in their homes and out on the streets, leaving them with nowhere to turn for refuge. In desperate times, many resorted to taking out loans from private micro-finance companies with exorbitantly high interest rates, which only perpetuated cycles of debt and poverty.

The Women’s Upliftment Project has completely transformed many of these communities. The project has three primary, highly-integrated components: self-help groups for women waste pickers, four temporary shelters for survivors of domestic violence, homeless women, and those struggling with mental illness, and a 24/7 counseling center.

Self-Help Groups

In the last year alone, the AVANI team motivated women waste pickers in 16 low-income communities in the Kolhapur district to establish and run their own self-help groups. With tools, education, guidance and support from AVANI, the groups began collectively saving funds to establish new income-generating, “green” enterprises, such as scrap metal and recycling businesses to generate more opportunities for unemployed local women and those working as waste pickers. AVANI helped advocate with the municipal government to secure loans for these groups, which allowed the women to expand and grow their businesses.

With this support from the local government, the groups avoided having to rely on predatory loans from private micro-finance companies, and in turn were able to save a substantial amount of money over the course of the last year. These recycling centers are transforming communities and cleaning them up, and in turn, the women’s work is being recognized and formalized; it’s truly a win-win-win for the women, their families and communities, and the local government.

Temporary Shelter Homes

Because Kolhapur is a place of religious pilgrimage, many women with no home or place for refuge end up there, seeing the high number of religious visitors as an opportunity to earn money begging.  Many of these homeless women are survivors of domestic violence who fled their homes. Others suffer from mental illness and have been abandoned by their families or kicked out of their homes. Finally, many women and girls end up on the streets due to unwanted pregnancies. These homeless women are rejected from society and face enormous social stigma; with no safe place to sleep at night, many are sexually assaulted and even killed.

The four shelters established by AVANI conduct outreach 12 times a month at nighttime to identify women in need of protection and support. The women are immediately taken to receive medical care, and then to the shelter where they are provided with food, clothing, medicine, and regular medical care, both mental and physical. In addition, literacy and other educational courses are held in the shelters to prepare the women for a more stable and successful future.

Counseling Center

The counseling center run by AVANI has been in operation for over five years now. Although there are other local help centers run by the police and the local government, AVANI’s is the only 24/7 center that welcomes women at night, which is often when they are most in need of support.

In the last year, the AVANI counseling center successfully rehabilitated 96 women and helped them return home or find long-term shelter.

The center also helped 45 broken families heal through various methods of family counseling and support.

Overall, AVANI has done an incredible job designing their projects for sustainability and longevity. By partnering with the local government wherever possible they ensure their projects, once established, will continue to receive funding and be maintained in the long-run. Of course, this Women’s Upliftment Project is just one of AVANI’s many endeavors to support marginalized women and children.

Over the last year, they have also continued to run many other programs, including: Poverty Alleviation, Gender Equity, Brickyard Daycare Centers, AVANI Daycare, Child Labor Rescue Program, Boarding Home Sponsorship, Boarding Home Construction, and Advocacy.

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