BHUBANESWAR: Women comprise majority of the weaving workforce in Odisha’s handloom sector. Yet, they continue to be counted as secondary workers when its comes to ownership of looms or Government benefits. In the male-dominated sector, less than 20 per cent of skilled women weavers come under the weavers’ cooperative fold or have formed self-help groups (SHGs) to conceptualise designs and manufacture products.The last Handloom Census in 2009-10 put the number of weavers in the State at 1,92,399 but the number of women in the sector was not counted. A new census is currently underway by the Ministry of Textiles. There are 40,683 weaver households and the number of looms stands at 43,652 in Odisha.
According to reports of the Handloom and Textiles Department, 71,524 weavers are enrolled in the cooperative societies and 16,565 of them are women. Similarly, there are 514 weavers’ cooperative societies and just 21 of these are completely managed by women, including 13 in Athagarh and six in Cuttack.However, there is no women-run weavers’ cooperative society in Western Odisha despite being one of the biggest handloom producing areas in the State with high participation of women in pre-weaving works such as designing, preparation of yarn and looms, tying and dying besides embroidery. This apart, there are 346 women SHGs that are in handloom weaving with each SHG having 14 to 15 members.
Sukanti Meher (43) of Barpali, a national awardee, said in a family of weavers, women are never enlisted as primary weavers by Government officials during Census. It is mostly the men who are registered as owners of looms and women are counted as secondary workers who help the men in weaving. “Even if women are into designing and weaving, they are kept out of activities like procuring raw materials and selling the finished products,” said Meher, who is also a master trainer and has trained more than 300 girls so far in tie and dye.Including Sukanti, only nine women weavers from Odisha have received the National Award (Sant Kabir Award for Master Craftspersons and Weavers instituted by Ministry of Textiles) so far and 17 are State awardees.
However, the number of male weavers in both the award categories is much higher. This year too, six male weavers will be felicitated with State awards in the categories of weaving, tie-dye and designing by the Handloom and Textiles Department on the occasion of National Handloom Day on Monday. Admitting that women are being marginalised in the sector with little or no ownership over looms, officials of the department said both men and women weavers are being extended loans of `10 lakh under Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Limited (Mudra) scheme. Handloom and Textiles Minister Snehangini Chhuria said the State Government is now shifting the focus on skilling women weavers. She informed that from 2016, the Government has started a specific training programme for women weavers and on completion, they are provided loans to set up their own looms and production units. Till date, 3,000 to 4,000 women have been trained under this programme, she added.