Rural Indian women are receiving a boost from an unlikely source- in opportunities that is. Victoria’s Secret, which produces garments designed to give a different kind of boost, is now providing jobs for rural Indian women, allowing them to escape poverty and break free of traditional roles.
30km south of Chennai, Kanchipuram district has become a manufacturing hub for a range of industries in recent years. Attracted by its strategic location, companies have set up manufacturing plants, transforming the area into one of the most industrialised in the country.
Intimate Fashions, which produces bras for Victoria’s Secret and La Senza, is one such company. After joining the Pudhu Vaazhvu (“New Life”) project, an Empowerment and Poverty reduction initiative funded by the World Bank, the company employs 2500 mostly female workers, 92% of whom come from families below the poverty line. Apart from providing rural women with jobs in the manufacturing sector, there are social and economic benefits.
In the conservative rice growing region, where women often marry in their teens, receive minimal education and rarely venture from the confines of their villages, families had initially been reluctant to allow daughters to step outside traditional roles.
Despite these reservations, the social benefits of the program were significant. According to Shajeevana R.V. from Tamil Nadu’s Rural Development Department, “we are seeing positive social changes taking place due to these jobs. Girls, who were married off straight out of school are now delaying their marriages by three or four years.”
The financial benefit was also substantial with many workers coming from Mamandur village, where villagers often earned just 100 rupees ($2) a day.
Latta Gubendran’s 19 year-old daughter, Divya, works at Intimate Fashions and earns a monthly salary of 7000 rupees ($130). Having previously struggled to send her children to school and even buy food, Ms Gubendran was now able to educate her two younger daughters and afford household amenities such as a fridge and television: “She is like the son I never had. She brings me and my family respect,” she said.
Yet one of the most significant benefits was the self esteem, empowerment and independence derived from economic freedom. 22 year old Jaya who makes the popular Victoria’s Secret “Very Sexy” push-up bra said of her parents: “They never saw me as an asset, just a burden. They did not think a woman could earn money, but look at me.”