Women Weavers of Assam Walk Out of Vulnerability with Former Supermodel

08 Jun 2010

New Delhi, 08 June 2010 -  Internationally renowned fashion designer and former supermodel Bibi Russell has joined hands with the ethnic Bodo women of the northeastern Indian state of Assam in creating a new line of lifestyle products that will blend traditional Bodo culture and high fashion.

Bibi Russell, who was associated with leading international brands and fashion shows in the 1970s and 80s, will train Bodo women working for Weaving Destination in modern design techniques and a range of skills that will help them market their products as a premium label. Bodo women working with Weaving Destination include those living with HIV, survivors of human trafficking and female migrant returnees who are highly vulnerable to getting re-trafficked and social exclusion. They produce a range of hand-woven products such as garments, scarves and hand-woven fabric for both inpidual and industrial use that preserve traditional Bodo motifs and weaving techniques.

Weaving Destination is part of Women and Wealth Project, a regional social enterprise led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) of Thailand, aimed at the socio-economic empowerment of women living with HIV. Two groups of women in India and one group in Cambodia are part of this initiative.

“Women need support to develop skills that will help them to be economically independent and socially confident. What they need is self esteem, human dignity and empowerment for better livelihoods and sustainable income. This is what I am committed to, “said Bibi, who is also a UNAIDS goodwill ambassador and the founder of Fashion for Development. Bibi is currently working with the Bodo women of Weaving Destination for a fortnight at their production campus in Bodoland.

“Beyond economic empowerment, the Women and Wealth Project in Assam provides a space for psycho-social support that helps women to collectively cope with the indignities and discrimination they face at home and in society as trafficked survivors and HIV positive women,” said Patrice Coeur-Bizot, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India. The experience in Cambodia and India shows that besides economic gains, this endeavour has helped women living with HIV gain better social acceptance, confidence, peer support, treatment-adherence and tremendous goodwill. “It is an important process of collaboration between developing countries and learning among community organizations that is making a difference in the lives of vulnerable women in Assam,” he added.

Chaya, a staff member of Weaving Destination, says: “I joined Weaving Destination production campus in 2009 and since then I have been supporting my family back home. Today, I am very confident of leading an independent and dignified life and have been able to inspire other women as well. I live in the Weaving Destination production campus along with other friends.”

About Weaving Destination

The Women and Wealth Project for the socioeconomic empowerment of women living with HIV was initiated in 2006 by UNDP in coordination with Thailand’s Population and Community Development Association. The project enables groups of HIV-positive women to develop small business enterprises, which cultivate lasting economic and social growth for the women and their families and concurrently reduce HIV-associated stigma and discrimination at the community-level.

This project currently operates in Cambodia and in two locations in India, where participants were drawn from local networks of people living with HIV. The project’s first stage focused on establishing a sustainable, revenuegenerating business among each women’s group. As the businesses expanded their services and marketing activities, they were unified under a common “WE” brand, which stands for “Women Empowered,” and “WE can make it together” – that caters to the international market.

In the project’s second stage, each business will implement its own microfinance scheme based on PDA’s Positive Partnership Programme (PPP), which is recognized by the UNAIDS Best Practice Collection. This model is designed specifically for people living with HIV to attain economic self-sufficiency and social inclusion through small loans. As the center of each programme, the businesses under this initiative will create opportunities for larger networks of women living with HIV to improve their economic and social livelihoods.

About Weaving DestinationSince its inception in 2009, Weaving Destination produces hand-woven silk and cotton products from traditional Bodo patterns. Established in the post-conflict Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam, India, Weaving Destination empowers vulnerable indigenous women. The staff of more than 40 women includes HIV-positive women, survivors of human trafficking and female migrant returnees who are highly vulnerable to re-trafficking, social exclusion, and impoverishment. Weaving Destination benefits from indigenous Bodo women’s proficiency in weaving to produce silk scarves, handicrafts and cotton fabrics for commercial use.

The business preserves traditional Bodo motifs and weaving techniques, while also designing products to suit national and international markets. Using profits from product sales, Weaving Destination operates a vocational training centre that will build capacity among indigenous young women who are highly vulnerable to trafficking. In this way, the business not only generates direct economic and social opportunities for its staff but also strives to support larger groups of women in need. Weaving Destination also facilitates access to HIV medicines for HIV-positive mothers who live in remote villages.

About UNDP

UNDP is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners

Contact Information

Alka Narang 
(alka.narang@undp.org)

Kazuyuki Uji 
(kazuyuki.uji@undp.org) 

Priyanka Khanna 
(priyanka.khanna@undp.org).
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