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Pull a thread here, and you’ll find it’s attached
to the rest of the world
- Nadeem Aslam -

THE STORY BEHIND THE WOVEN PRODUCTS CONSISTS OF TWO STORIES

The story behind the WOVEN products actually consists of two stories. Most of its fabric used in the WOVEN products is handwoven by the women of WSDO, while the manufacturing of these bags happens at WOVEN. In this process, from washing and dyeing of the cotton to the finishing of the bag, many different women are involved, from both WSDO and WOVEN.
Because WSDO and WOVEN are different in way of working and the women are different, I gave WSDO and WOVEN their own attention. Together they make the story behind the WOVEN products.

Read more about WOVEN








THE STORY BEHIND THE WEAVING

WSDO


Women's Skills Development Organization (WSDO) is a Fair Trade organization, which has been working since 1975 as a non-profit and income-generating program. WSDO supports women that face severe social and economic problems—being differently abled, abused, widowed, divorced, separated, orphaned, or of marginalized castes.

Empowering women

These women receive free training and employment opportunities in the many different steps in making WSDO's handwoven products. WSDO's vision is to improve the quality of life for all women in Nepal by empowering women, providing them new skills and capacities to be self-supportive.

WSDO makes a wide range of handwoven and handmade products.
The elephant and giraffe dolls you find on MuniMuni are handwoven and made by the women working at WSDO. The Woven products are manufactured by the women working at Woven. The women of WSDO have woven most of the fabric used for the Woven products. Read more about Woven.

The start

Women's Skills Development Organization (WSDO) started more than 40 years ago. At that moment, there was a crisis with long-standing social and gender inequalities in Nepal.
A group of women recognized the importance of empowering marginalized women, to learn and develop new skills, to change their lives and life within communities.

On International Women's Day (8th of March) in 1975, a group of Nepalese women formed an association known as the Women's Skills Development Project. The women started the project to empower poor, vulnerable, and excluded women. These women often did not have education, were dependent on or abused by their husbands, or generally in poor health because of a lack of money and other difficult circumstances. Their goal was to teach these women new skills related to making handicrafts.
The project started with an investment of only Rs 10000 (+- 100USD), just three working women and abandoned property in Pokhara that had been granted by the local municipality.

Over the years...

In 1996 Women's Skills Development Project became a founding member of Fair Trade Group Nepal, and in 2003 joined the World Fair Trade Organization.
In 2010 the association changed the last part of its name, "Project" to "Organization," to ensure it's permanence and ability to exist without financial aid.

The organization has been able to grow steadily with more and more women showing interest in the training and employment opportunities offered, and with more customers from different parts of the world buying WSDO's products.
The hope is that, as WSDO grows, it can support more women in Nepal and help transform their lives.

Steps in the process

There are many steps in the production process of the handwoven fabric. First, the cotton must be boiled, washed, dyed (where possible with natural dye like tea, iron, copper, pomegranate, and Nepalese hops) and then washed again.
After washing, the cotton hangs to dry in the sun. The cotton then is balled and loomed, to prepare for the weaving on a backstrap loom.

At WSDO, the handwoven fabric is then used for manufacturing and making of different products, like the elephants and giraffes we sell at MuniMuni.store. The handwoven fabric is also sold to WOVEN, where this is then used to make the different WOVEN products. Read more here about WOVEN.
So, by the time one of the handwoven items is ready for purchase, they have run through 12 different steps, and it takes at least a week to make.

Backstrap loom

The women at WSDO weave with a backstrap loom. This kind of loom is common in Gurung families and thought to be the oldest form of loom in the world.
The Gurung live in the region of Pokhara, where WSDO is based, along the slopes of the Annapurna Mountain Range. The Gurung were traditionally herdsmen, but in the early 20th century, they became skilled agriculturists and reputed soldiers (Ghurkas). The continued employment of Ghurka soldiers in the Nepalese, Indian, British, and Brunei military has been a valuable source of income for the community. A smaller source of income was and continues to be, based on the extraordinary skill of the Gurung weavers who most likely started the textile trade in Nepal. They are famous for their traditional woolen blankets, which are still valuable trade items today.

 

Weaving in action

The primary feature of the backstrap loom, an entirely non-mechanized instrument, is that the lengthwise threads (warp) are secured from a post or other stationary object to a backstrap that a woman wears around her waist. By moving her body, the woman can control the amount of tension in the warp threads throughout the weaving process.
Watch the video underneath to see the weaving in action.

The women who come to WSDO for training, will be receiving a 3-month training program at the WSDO workplace. After this, they can come to the office for balling and looming, and then take the cotton back home, to do the weaving from there.
In the photos your can see how these women can do the weaving from home, in their houses, or on a rooftop. In this way they can combine the work for WSDO, together with the household and taking care of the family.

 

Pokhara Lakeside


Women's Skill's Development Organization is located in Pokhara, Nepal. This is about 7-8 hours by buss from Kathmandu.


The story behind the product in video

A video from WSDO Nepal


An interview with Ram Khali Khadka

Namaste Ram Kali Khadka, founder and director.

WSDO has now existed for more than 40 years. In the beginning, only three women were working at WSDO compared with the 584 women now. Did you ever think at the start that WSDO would grow this big?

Thank you for your question. Although we started with three women, we hadn’t thought that WSDO would grow this big. We started with the goal to uplift the situation of women. With the help of everyone, now we have a larger family with numbers up to 586 women, and the number seems to be still growing. Women from rural areas have been asking help from WSDO to support them.

How has the position of Nepali women changed over the last 40 years?

There has been a considerable change compared to 40 years ago. In our Gurung and Magar societies, women were not willing to work outside of their homes, and they were also hesitant to speak in an outer environment. Even if we asked them their names, they would remain quiet. When we used to conduct training, they would not attend it, and we had to go to their houses. Also, when we had to fill up the forms, we needed to know their husband’s name. We used to ask them, and the women from the Brahmin/ Chhetri community never spelled out their husband’s name as it was supposed to be a taboo.

 

Also, women used to be very reluctant when we talked about education. We tried to convince them to take informal learning and be able to read and write their names. They used to cross-question us, saying that what they would do after being educated. If you look at the current situation, there has been a drastic change among women in the field of education and other areas.

What are the most important things that still need to be done in the next 40 years, to reach more gender equality?

To have equality between men and women, this can’t solely be made possible through the effort of women. I think the government also needs to have a look into this field. The government needs to have specific, implemented policies and regulations. Currently, the government has rules to have 30% of women at the decision-making level. But in reality, the number of women who reach these positions is scarce. Because of this, the government also needs to have a look upon it.

What do you hope will change over the next 40 years, with respect to the position of Nepali women?

I see a bright future in the next 40 years if things go accordingly. In our times, the common tradition was that sons could go to school, whereas daughters were not allowed to go to school. But if you see now, both of them go hand in hand to school. There is a current discussion going on about the rights of women for the economy and property. If we receive support from all sectors, in the next 40 years, we hope that the situation would make great improvements for the women in Nepal.

How can other women (outside of WSDO) learn from the WSDO example?

They have a lot of things to learn from here. We provide training to women who are physically weak, single women, orphans, and women who come from economically vulnerable groups. Our doors are always open to anyone, and we are ready to help and to provide the women training. There is a waiting list at the moment. We don’t have a bigger capacity for a larger group at the same time. We try to create space first for the people who are having tough times.

In Nepal, there is still a big difference between the opportunities of men and women, especially in rural areas and villages. How do you think this type of change could be brought to these rural areas?

This is an important subject matter. If the village and rural areas are more developed, we will be able to improve the whole country eventually. Today you have seen our work in the field, and when our work reaches the village, it helps to develop the village area. To improve the village area, we need to go to the towns and study the condition of village women, their household and environment.

We also need to be aware of their problems and challenges, and then only we can help to develop the villages. Also, for gender equality, let’s say that a house does not have a male member in it, and there are only female members. So, in the same house, the female needs to take the roles of male as well, which I see as gender equality. If we can educate our children, feed them, and provide them clothes, then it is called equality. It doesn’t have to be the father; a mother can do it too. In Salija, in the base of the mountains, we have alloo programs, here we buy their products.

 
How are the working conditions of the women monitored?

For us, we need to have an open space to work. We also need to work in places with enough light. We have our own sets of rules and regulations from Fairtrade, and we work accordingly. For example, if someone is working with fire, it has to be in an open space. If someone is working in sewing, it needs to be in a larger room. These are our working conditions, and we are following these rules.

 

What is the salary of the women, compared to what a family would need to live on?

There are basic guidelines from World Fair Trade after they have conducted an audit here at our office, and they have confirmed we are following the Fair Trade regulations. Thus, we pay the women as per hour, and our hourly payment is Rs 52. Based on this, some people work 24 days a month or some who work 26 days per month, and they get paid for the number of hours they work. Also, including Saturday, we pay them, including the overtime. Some people receive a fixed monthly salary, which ranges from a minimum of 13,000 Rs to around 30,000 Rs at the maximum.

 

What does WSDO offer to these women, in addition to the salary, considering health, education, and training?

Human life and health is the most precious thing on earth and so to say: their health. So, time and time again, we invite doctors to have a regular check-up for our staff. We also provide the women training about the environment and awareness of health, epidemic diseases, and the reproductive and sexual health of women. A lot of women are usually hesitant on this topic. We also provide a gynecologist to check the health of the women. We had times when women had cancer and got better after treatment.

Also, here we have people who might be single and might not have their family with them, so we try to celebrate the festivals and have merry-making together in festivals such as Dashain. During Teej, which is one of the most celebrated festivals for women, people here also like to have good times, so we all get together and dress up, dance and sing with each other and eat delicious food. With the monotonous work life, we might get frustrated, so we also organize tours for the women to go traveling as well. There might also be cases where a woman comes from an economically vulnerable family, and her husband doesn't have a job. We also sponsor these kinds of women for their education and try to help them.

What is used in terms of payment guidelines, breaks, working hours, leave, or in case of illness?

We have a provision of 30 days' leave in a whole year. People can utilize this leave when they are sick or when they have some personal works. Our usual routine of work is from 9.30 to 5, but when people have some additional work, we allow them to do overtime work. Sometimes we might have less work, and they can leave work early. It also depends on the amount of work there is, and we manage it internally. And to not forget, we have 30 minutes for lunch.

If the women do not take leaves, we pay them back the equivalent amount of their leaves, which is only applicable to the people who are working on a salary basis. We pay the women by cash after their monthly calculation. Some people have bank accounts, and we directly deposit over there. But to many people who come from rural areas, we pay them in hand.

 

 

With all the discussion about Fair Trade now. What value do you attach to the Fair Trade label yourself?  

To the people who have a thorough understanding of fair-trade, it has greater importance, but to the people who do not understand it, they might find it useless. Fair-trade can’t only exist just by its name, and there are a lot of NGOs who come to monitor our work. They inquire and try to understand a lot of our practices. It is not just simply that we have achieved a fair-trade label in vain. They had sent their auditors and had a thorough study of our employees here and their economic condition. We didn’t write fair-trade guaranteed on our own, and we received the fair-trade label after a fair achievement. Those organizations that have been fair-trade having had an excellent performance until today.

How are checks carried out?

The auditors have a look over how we have been working over the last three years. They verify our source of income, if we are working at the grass-root level and how we function. Only after that, we get to be a member. After being a member, they provide our training in a gap of two years, we ask them several questions and also get the answers to it. We also need to pay them as member-fee. So, there is no chance we can fake and lie on our reports. We provide this same report to the CDO office, WFTO, and all other organizations where we are a member. So we have shown our transparency via our audit reports. We are the founder member of the Fair Trade Nepal Group.

Your son, three years ago, started WOVEN. He grew up with Fair Trade. While WOVEN itself is not Fair Trade, it uses the WSDO Fair Trade fabric for its products. How do you see this cooperation?

The most important aspect is to get employment for women. When we produce a lot of goods, we also need the buyer and consumer for it, and our organization needs that. Not only with WOVEN, but we have also been working with many other organizations. We sell our products in America, Europe, Australia, and to many other countries. WOVEN is quite near to us in terms of distance and located in the same area. WOVEN combines the fabric with leather. Our workers need as much work as we can do, so, we have associated with WOVEN for work.

What goals do you have for WSDO, and are there any barriers to these goals?

We do not have a lot of goals. Our main goal is to empower poor people to stand on their own feet. We also aim to empower women economically. As women are lagging in many sectors, we want women to be in the mainstream of d

evelopment, more focusing on the economic sector. In today’s era, without money, nothing is possible. If you want to take a bus or a taxi to go somewhere or if you want to buy something, you need money everywhere. Thus, we try to focus on women empowerment and helping them grow economically stable.

We do not have many challenges at the moment, but there are quite some people who are copying our products. If the copied products are made by women, then we do not have any problem. But using the machine, while saying it is handmade, is what we see a lot at the moment. The buyers need to be aware of these kinds of products and only need to purchase genuine products made by women. After paying for the product, the buyer needs to get the actual product of fair trade in his hand. If this happens, the buyer's benefits and is also beneficial to the women workers as well as WSDO. We sell the products at a fair price. It will be helpful to the women as well as the ultimate buyer of the product.

 

I hope that with MUNIMUNI I can sell more products of WSDO and WOVEN, to support the women. Thank you, Ram Kali Khadka, for your time and for having this interview with me.

I look forward to working together in the coming years.

Thank you very much, Christel.


Read more about WOVEN


Read the other stories
"The story behind..."









THE MAKING OF THE HANDWOVEN
WOVEN BAGS









THE NECKLACES FROM SAMUNNAT
IN EAST NEPAL









THE FAIR TRADE & ORGANIC
TIE DYE PRODUCTS OF MANUSHI









THE ECO-PRINT SHAWLS & KIMONOS
FROM BORA STUDIO









THE NATURAL DYED SHAWLS
FROM KAKANI









THE TIES & BOW-TIES
FROM HATTIHATTI









THE IDEA BEHIND & THE START
OF MUNIMUNI

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