Front Cover
 Handicrafts: What are they?
 Breaking the myths of stereotyped...
 The lives of rural women, the do's...
 Diversifying products
 Institutional support: Financial...
 Organizational strategy -- groups...
 Back Cover

Group Title: SEEDS
Title: Women and handicrafts
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088776/00001
 Material Information
Title: Women and handicrafts myth and reality
Series Title: SEEDS
Physical Description: 16 p. : ill., ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Dhamija, Jasleen
Publisher: SEEDS
Place of Publication: New York N.Y
Publication Date: 1981
Subject: Handicraft   ( lcsh )
Women -- Employment   ( lcsh )
Cottage industries   ( lcsh )
Trabajos manuales
Trabajo y trabajadores -- Capacitación
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: story by Jasleen Dhamija.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088776
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 08833062

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
    Handicrafts: What are they?
        Page 2
    Breaking the myths of stereotyped roles
        Page 3
    The lives of rural women, the do's and don'ts of handicraft production, and the feasibility study
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Diversifying products
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Institutional support: Financial resources and protection
        Page 11
    Organizational strategy -- groups dynamics
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    Back Cover
        Page 17
        Page 18
Full Text

SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all
over the world for information about innovative and practical program
ideas developed by and for low income women. The pamphlets are
designed as a means to share information and spark new projects based
on the positive experiences of women who are working to help
themselves and other women improve their economic status. The
projects described in this and other issues of SEEDS have been
selected because they provide women with a cash income, involve
women in decision-making as well as earning, are based on sound
economic criteria, and are working successfully to overcome obstacles
commonly encountered. The reports are not meant to be prescriptive,
since every development effort will face somewhat different problems
and resources. Rather, they have been written to describe the history of
an idea and its implementation in the hope that the lessons learned can
be useful in a variety of settings. They are also being written to bring to
the attention of those in decision-making positions the fact that income-
generating projects for and by women are viable and have important
roles to play in development.

No. 4 1981

SEEDS is a jointly sponsored project of the
Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation
and the Population Council, with additional funds
provided by the General Services Administration.

Women and Handicrafts:

Myth and Reality

Story by Jasleen Dhamija


Whenever planners, program developers and project directors
are faced with the question, "how do we develop viable income-
generating activities for women," the first thing that comes to their
minds is handicrafts. The myth is that handicrafts are women's
work something they do well, an activity that presumably does not
interfere with their domestic responsibilities, and one that requires a
low level of investment and short gestation period. Rarely does
anyone bother to look at the realities of the situation, either in terms
of the handicrafts industry or in terms of the lives of the women the
project proposes to serve. Few planners or program staff understand
that handicrafts require specialized skills and often years of appren-
ticeship or that crafts which provide a reasonable income have
already become the exclusive province of men!
The purpose of this pamphlet is to review handicrafts as a
means of providing income to women. In some instances, crafts are a
solid source of income and can also provide women with a link to their
own cultural heritage. In most instances, however, crafts production
concentrates women in an area that is labor intensive and ex-
ploitative, providing a meager income for long hours of work.
Therefore, people interested in assisting women to earn income
should first ask, are there other activities that would provide a better
source of income than crafts? All possibilities should be given careful
consideration. If handicrafts appear to be a viable option, there are
still many additional questions that should be asked before starting a
craft project. It is hoped that this pamphlet will help in that effort.

Handicrafts: What are they?
Let us first define handicrafts as
discussed here as activities in which
available materials, tools and skills, plus
the producer's imagination and creative
ability, are used to create objects. In some
countries, the term handicrafts is ex-
tended to cover all activities where non-
mechanized processes are used, e.g.,
activities such as food processing, mak-
ing of food specialties and innumerable
other handskills. We shall here confine
ourselves to objects of utility and
decorative value, a definition which is
commonly accepted in the developing

Feminine Crafts: Sex Roles and
Discrimination in Crafts Production
Crafts which give good returns to the
craft person, e.g., bronze casting, metal
engraving, jewelry, lapidary, glass blow-
ing, brocade weaving, etc., rarely are
practiced by women. The skills are a
domain of men and are stricly guarded and
passed from father to son. A daughter is
rarely taught these skills for it is assumed
that she will marry, leave the family and
therefore might impart the skills to her
new family. Usually women practice crafts
associated with their domestic lives, to
meet their needs. Sometimes they are able
to sell surplus items in local markets.
Generally the types of crafts which
are introduced among women are euphe-
mistically called "feminine crafts" for in
many ways they are associated with the
home. They are stitching, embroidery,

crocheting, knitting, weaving, basketry,
mat making, and in some parts of the
world, pottery. Those who think they are
introducing new crafts promote tye and
dye, batik and macrame.
If we examine these crafts, we will
see that their "femininity" lies primarily in
the fact that they are essentially time con-
suming, provide little income, and are not
easily upgraded to yield a higher price.
These crafts rarely prove to be a stepping
stone into a small scale industry which
would offer greater incomes to women.
Whenever such activities are commer-
cialized, the more remunerative part of the
work generally is taken up by the men.
Take the case of tailoring: the best paid
job is cutting; this requires a special skill
and in 90% of the cases, it is done by the
men. The more laborious but lower paid
work such as handstitching, finishing and
stitching of buttons is given to women and
they are paid the lowest wages.
The situation when "feminine"crafts
are commercialized can be even worse. In
India one of the big commercial opera-
tions in handicrafts is white embroidery
done on fine cotton material called
"chikanwork." The women who do this
work are from the Muslim community and
because of social customs are confined to
their homes. They receive the work from
traders (middlemen); for the handstitching
of a shirt and its embroidering they earn a
pittance equal to about U.S. 25 cents for
eight to ten hours of work. Such wages are

Breaking the Myths of Stereotyped Roles
Although most societies distinguish
men's crafts and women's crafts, there is
in fact no universal rationale in this
division of labor. What is unacceptable in
one society may be common practice in
another. For example, we generally think
of blacksmiths as men. But anyone who
has travelled by road in northern India has
seen women ironsmiths side by side, ham-
mering in perfect rhythm the metals that
are forged into agricultural implements. In
most parts of Asia, pottery is the work of
men, but in much of Africa it is taboo for a
man to even touch the implements. Tradi-
tionally, women are supposed to be

weavers, but in most parts of Africa it is
the man who weaves. The delicate and
highly lucrative work of the goldsmith is
the domain of men, but it could be termed
a gentler art and women have shown that
they can do it just as well. Today, one of
the finest Turkoman jewelers in the
Caspian area of Iran is a woman.

The truth is that women can do any of
the jobs which are done by the men pro-
vided they have the opportunity and the
training. If handicrafts are to provide
viable income-generating activities for
women then such distinctions must be

The Lives of Rural Women
Before developing any type of income-
generating program for women, but par-
ticularly handicrafts, it is essential to have
a solid understanding of the lives of the
women to be involved so that any new pro-
gram is in fact a means of bettering
women's lives and not just one more
drudgery for the already overburdened to
The rural woman is generally the pro-
vider of the family's basic needs. Her
tasks are many and she is under tremen-
dous pressure. Water has to be brought
from long distances; fuel has to be
gathered; and she produces and pro-
cesses food for the family. Repairs to the
house of a minor nature are her respon-
sibility and she tries to meet the needs of
the household by making containers from
available materials, and by patching up
the clothes or skins. Recycling, which has
become such a fashionable word today, is
her specialty. Worn out clothes are made
into patched quilts; waste papers are
pulverized and made into simple papier-
mache bowls.
Before new activities can be effec-
tively developed to provide cash incomes

(. ..


so greatly needed by the rural woman, it is
necessary to first look at her life in its
totality. Are there ways in which her
burdens could be lifted and shouldn't
these problems be tackled first? In some
settings, simple innovations of tools and
facilities to reduce women's drudgery are
necessary to give her the extra time
needed for income-generating activities.

The Do's and Don'ts of Handicraft
Before trying to develop any handi-
craft program designed to provide women
with an income, it is absolutely essential
to look at the existing possibilities open to
women based on traditional or easily ac-
quired skills, and to study present day
demands for these products in the local
and extended domestic markets. It is also
necessary to consider the prospect for
creating and managing the organizational
structures which will provide needed sup-
port for the project. In some instances,
a handicrafts program will be the answer;
in other cases, it will not. For example
India, with the majority of its population in
the rural areas and a high unemployment
rate, has successfully developed its handi-
crafts by pursuing a policy of protection
for many years, and by providing various
forms of technical assistance including a
well developed marketing operation orga-
nized by the private and public sectors.
Handicrafts, however, may not be an ef-
fective strategy for other countries which
have a limited population and other possi-
ble avenues for employment. In some
areas of Africa, where the land is fertile
and women have traditionally farmed and
marketed their products and have no
restriction on their movement, handicrafts
are probably not the best answer. Here, im-
provement of agricultural practices and
food processing may often be a better
means of increasing their incomes.
Before planning a handicrafts pro-
gram, a comprehensive feasibility study
should be undertaken.

The Feasibility Study
A first step is to look at the overall
economic situation, the work women
already do, materials available to them
and existing and/or potential markets for
products. In most cases, this assessment
should be done by experts since many of
the facts and judgments required are of a
technical nature and difficult to make.

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The rural woman is generally the provider of the family's basic
needs. Water has to be brought from long distances; fuel has to
be gathered; and she produces and processes food for the family.
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Some questions to ask include:
1. What women are available for
training and production work (age,
residence, cultural background,
2. What income-earning work do
women do now? Do they work out-
side their homes?
3. What skills (not just craft skills) do
they have that might generate in-
come? (These include skills they
currently use and those that have
fallen into disuse.)
4. Do the women need a regular live-
lihood or supplementary income?

5. What are the techniques used for
production and describe the types
of technology available?
6. What are the raw materials to be
used in the craft and are they
locally available? What are their
7. What other raw materials are
available locally? Are they locally
processed? What are their costs?

8. Where do local people sell their
products? How and when? At
what prices?
9. What are the prevailing prices for
similar types of products made by
hand and by machine?
10. What products are beginning to be
demanded by the community
which are not yet catered to by the
local industries?
11. How long will it take to develop
the new skills needed and to go
into production?
12. Which markets are we aiming for?
The local market? Extended
market in the home country? An
export market?

The following is an actual case where
a feasibility study of this nature was car-
ried out by an expert consultant for a
government industry in charge of a rural,
non-farm development program. A poor
district in Kirman, Iran, was rapidly
surveyed and it was found that:

a. It was an area having marginal
agricultural activity dependent on the
rains, which were erratic. The slack
season was very long. Off-farm job
opportunities were very limited, but
every family had sheep giving a good
quality wool.
b. All the women had primitive hori-
zontal carpet looms. The carpets they
wove were of very poor quality, but still
retained the traditional tribal designs.
c. Older, finely woven carpets with the
same designs sold at a premium in the
antique carpet market.
d. The fine quality wool from the sheep
was being sold to city merchants leav-
ing the weavers of Kirman without
good raw material.
e. Dyeing facilities were not locally
f. There were a few modern looms in
the area belonging to the merchants.
Here men were engaged in the produc-
tion of fine quality carpets which were
in great demand and provided good
returns to the weavers. Some of the
local men also owned their looms and
thus not only earned wages but shared
in the profits from the carpet sales.
The investigator also learned that
large copper mines would be coming to the
area in the next ten years. They would cer-
tainly attract many men away from weaving
and would also raise incomes in the area
thus expanding the market for carpets.
Based on this knowledge and the informa-
tion from the feasibility study, it was
decided that it would be worthwhile to in-
troduce a program to upgrade the carpet
weaving skills of the women of Kirman.
The idea was to help the women to
form a cooperative through which wool
could be processed locally. The coopera-
tive would increase their production by:
giving them better quality raw
subsidizing the cost of new looms so
that they could purchase their own
upgrading their skills so they would
be able to produce their own traditional
patterns but in a much finer quality;
and later, teaching the best of the
weavers to read graph patterns so they
would be able to introduce more colors
and new designs.

Through local home economics agen-
cies, the women were gathered together
and the project was discussed with them. It
was discovered that the new vertical looms
could not be introduced into their homes
because the roofs were too low and there
was not enough light inside. This problem
was solved by suggesting that the subsidy
to cover the cost of the loom also include
the cost of materials to build a very simple
shed attached to the home where two
looms could be put back to back. The
beams, the supports and tin sheets for the
roof would be given as a grant by the
government but the women, along with
their families, would construct the shed
thus giving their labor as their contri-
bution to the project.
A government subsidy covered half
the cost of the looms and the women paid
the rest: ten percent as initial deposit with
the remainder to be paid over the next year
from the women's earnings. This was feasi-
ble because earnings for a year were pro-
jected at three times the cost of the loom.
The ten percent initial deposit (approx-
imately $15) was a small amount for the
women to raise from family sources. The
women did this with great enthusiasm
because ownership of the loom made them
credit-worthy in the village economy.
The women were then given the raw
materials from local cooperatives along
with instructions on design and quality. A

master weaver assisted in the initial
mounting of the warp on the new looms,
started them off and provided periodic
supervision. The master weaver was
located in the village and the women could
go to him if they ran into difficulties. One
master weaver supervised fifteen looms
with great ease. While the carpet weaving
was in progress, the cooperative extended
credit to the women to cover their daily
needs such as flour, salt, oil, tea, sugar and
lentils, items that women generally provide
for their households.
After one carpet was finished, which
took from 3 to 7 months, the women could
sell it either to the cooperative or to the
trader, whoever paid them a better price.
The cooperative society calculated the
basic weaving costs of the carpet and paid
this base unit sum to the woman im-
mediately upon production of the carpet,
after deducting any advance she had taken.
The carpet was then evaluated by an expert
who fixed the actual value the price at
which it could be sold. This price was often
higher than the basic unit cost. In this case
50% of the market price, in excess of the
unit cost, also was paid to the woman. This
acted as a good incentive to induce the
women to produce very fine carpets, and
slowly they became absorbed in the overall
system of carpet production. Later on
private dealers decided that women were
more reliable than men, kept their promises

and worked regularly. Eventually the
dealers began to induce women in nearby
districts to take up fine quality weaving.
This process was also helped by the fact
that men were migrating to the towns in
search of better job opportunities.
This project worked because it was
based on careful assessment of prevailing
socio-economic conditions, locally
available skills and raw materials, and
because there was a strong demand for the
product. The opportunity to own their own
looms, along with initial supervision and
support provided in a flexible manner,
enabled the women to enter a commercial
operation formerly accessible only to men.
Eventually they were able to be indepen-
dent of any continuing government

Diversifying Products
Other approaches to expanding craft
incomes are to a) introduce new products
or alter a traditional product without
substantially changing existing skills, and
b) introduce new skills and products. In
both cases the feasibility study is even
more important.
An example of developing new or im-
proved products based on existing skills
comes from a potters' village in India
where the families for years had made
water jars for the local market. Their
actual weekly earnings from these items
never went above six dollars per family.
The introduction of a few new items re-
quiring the same skills but directed to a
modern market,e.g., candle holders, cut
work lamps, garden lights and perforated
small stands, brought not only a new
clientele but also allowed them to charge

higher prices for their hand labor and thus
increase their incomes.
In another case, Turkoman women
wove beautiful silk but in narrow widths,
for which there was a limited local market.
By changing the beam and the combs of
the looms, they were able to produce silk
of 90 cm., for which there was a growing
market, and thereby triple their earnings.
Here a very nominal expenditure and
hardly one week's training in the use of
the new loom revived a dying craft and
gave a regular source of income to a large
village of women weavers.
In some cases a skill can be diverted
to a totally new line of production for
which there is a growing demand. Re-
cently a project was developed in Ethiopia
to divert the skills of traditional potters,
who were making storage jars and cook-
ing pots, to the manufacturing of in-
digenous construction materials such as
bricks, tiles, pipes and large water storage
jars. This answered the local needs for
building materials and replaced imported
tin and asbestos sheets. Without this
diversion, these craftswomen would have
very soon faced competition from the new
plastic and pressed aluminum industries
which produce lighter, unbreakable
storage and cooking utensils.
The second means of diversifying pro-
ducts is to introduce new skills and
materials. Some good examples of train-
ing women in crafts that they have not
practiced before are glass cutting in India,
screen printing in Kenya, and wood-block
printing combined with tye and dye em-
broidery in Ethiopia.
Introducing new products usually re-
quires training women in skills they do not
have, substantial in-
S vestment in new equip-
Sment, much trial and
S error in production,
Careful supervision
and the like. It should
not be done except
when existing pro-
ducts are nil or show
no prospect for up-
grading. It is impera-
tive that the feasibility
study be very carefully
done with particular at-
tention to market
analysis and availa-
bility of raw materials,
technical expertise
Sand supervision.


Wherever possible low cost, locally
available materials should be used. In
Bangladesh the use of the simple jute
fiber for the making of pothangers, bags,
mats and a variety of utility articles,
started by a cooperative society organized
for the rehabilitation of war widows, has
had unprecedented success. On the other
hand the use of imported materials for
crafts generally fails. An example of a
poorly selected new skill and material was
a scheme in the traditionally rich craft
area of flower making in Ghana. This pro-
ject failed because the synthetic material,
imported at a high cost, was affected by
the humid climate. The end result was
artificial flowers that wilted faster than
natural ones!

Marketing is a critical element in any
handicrafts project and marketing prob-
lems have plagued most handicraft pro-
jects started by welfare organizations in
the developing world. These centers often
decide to start a handicrafts project
without looking into the question of con-
sumer requirements, available skills, ex-
isting market prices or regular outlets for
their products. It is imperative to make a
thorough market study before any com-
mercial handicrafts activity is started and
the study should be carried out by an ex-
There are certain aspects of the
marketing of handicrafts which have to be
borne in mind when starting a commercial

a. You must produce a high quality
product. A badly finished article,
not suitable for the purpose for
which it is intended, will find few
buyers and is poor publicity.
b. Price your product competitively.
An object which is available
cheaper at other shopping
centers will not attract customers.
c. Always test a market with
samples of your new products
before taking up large-scale pro-
d. Rotate your designs and always
have new designs to offer. Variety
and change in products is crucial.
Therefore keep abreast of con-
sumer needs and do not be left
with stock on your shelves.

A women's organization in Kenya,
Maendeleo ya Wanawake, which has
members all over the country, has a
number of groups working on handicrafts.
The organization started a shop in Nairobi
to sell their products. Though the shop
was located in a commercial area and in
front of a large, busy tourist hotel, it was
not very successful. It lacked working
capital to pay cash for goods on delivery
from the women's groups. The lack of
funds also prevented the marketing unit
from developing new products and
designs, since they were unable to supply
the needed raw materials or buy the
finished products from women on a cash
A regional agency for assisting
women in developing income-generating
activities assessed the situation and felt
that Mandeleo's initial setback should not
be taken as a failure. They assisted the
organization in the development of a new
approach which includes provision of
working capital and also supports a
designer to develop new lines of produc-
tion and a field worker to upgrade the
skills of the women in order for them to
produce a new range of merchandise. A
key element in this approach is a well-
motivated and competent technical staff
who do outreach work and train women to
organize themselves into associations,
cooperatives or private production units.

While diversifying and upgrading
skills and developing new markets, it is
most important, however, not to break
links with traditional markets, which are
regular markets. This has happened with
bad consequences in numerous cases.
Two well-known instances have occurred
in India. One was the case of the
"bleeding madras", a checked cotton
lungii" material with running colors which
became a short-lived fashion in the United
States. Local weavers' cooperatives
switched to the production of this new
material, using fugitive dyes, and ignored
the traditional market for the sarong, used
by the local men. Suddenly the demand for
the bleeding madras in the U.S. ceased
and the cooperatives found themselves
with huge stocks and no market. This
drove a number of cooperatives into
bankruptcy and a large number of weavers
to the point of starvation.
In another case, the producers of cire
perdu metal deities in central India re-
ceived large orders from the government
for export, for two years running. In the
meantime they failed to supply the local

tribal population which had been their
regular market and with whom they main-
tained a close cultural link. The link was
broken and when the government failed to
place an order in the third year, the
workers faced real hardship.
Experience has shown that attention
should first be focused on finding
markets within the country, first near the
area of production, and then farther away
in other towns or regions. These local
markets are regular outlets and present
minimal transport and marketing prob-
lems. In addition the home market is a
discerning market that makes it relatively
easy to establish consumer preferences. It
also provides quick feedback to assist in
setting acceptable standards of produc-
tion and maintaining quality control.
Production for export, on the other
hand, poses many very difficult problems:
generally large and steady levels of pro-
duction are required; products must be
designed and quality maintained to suit
foreign and often unknown tastes; and
there are often complicated government
regulations to deal with, to say nothing of

transport problems. Given these prob-
lems, much larger financial resources
generally are needed to organize a suc-
cessful export marketing operation.
In developing projects for the mar-
keting of handicrafts, the needs of the
women are a priority but the requirements
of the commercial market also must be
kept in view. A balance has to be kept
between development activity and com-
mercial operation. This requires ex-
perienced management. The well known
Central Cottage Industries Emporium in
New Delhi, India, is an excellent example
of a successful operation of this nature.
This organization was set up by a group of
motivated social workers with government
assistance. In a systematic way they
began to apply sound commercial prac-
tices. New and old production centers
were assisted in innovating new products,
quality control procedures were set up
and sales promotion campaigns began.
Through their efforts they succeeded both
in providing employment for low income
women and creating the best in handi-
crafts. Their retail store is currently the
finest shop for handicrafts in India.

Institutional Support: Financial Resources
and Protection
There has been a tendency in
women's organizations, be they voluntary

or governmental, to set up activities in
different ways without linking them with
existing institutions that could help them
in the development of technical training,
marketing and credit. Utilization of ex-
isting institutions can lead to a very suc-
cessful program.
For instance, the Tunisian Govern-
ment has developed a range of protective
and supportive policies for small-scale in-
dustries under their new decentralization
plan which provides special privileges to
technically qualified entrepreneurs.
Creative utilization of these policies is
demonstrated by the Tunisian program of
"Production Families." This program was
organized by the Ministry of Social
Welfare but with close links to the
Tunisian Handicrafts Promotion Centre,
another government organization. The two
organizations jointly identified the craft to
be developed and a training program was
financed and initiated by the Ministry of
Social Welfare. The instructor for the train-
ing, the raw materials and the designs
came from the Handicrafts Centre so that
the training was up to the standard
needed for commercial production.
The trainees were given pocket
money during the nine month course so
they could afford to participate. Also the
organization of the training program was
arranged so that they would be able to

work independently upon completion of
the training. The nine months of training
was divided into two periods: during the
first five months, the trainees worked
under one roof with strict supervision; in
the next four months, the tools and equip-
ment were installed in their homes and
they were taught to work on their own.
Once independent, they still maintained
their contacts with the commercial wing
of the Handicrafts Centre and could either
market their products through the Centre
or to traders. The linkage with an existing
specialized institution protected the pro-
gram from the usual failure caused by low
standards in skills and poor production
which in turn lead to problems in mar-
keting and exploitation by the traders,
problems which, sadly, are common to
most handicrafts centers initiated for

Organizational Strategy -
Groups Dynamics
Another important element in design-
ing a program in which women participate
and from which they benefit, is to develop
a good organizational structure. Whether
it be cooperatives, associations,
registered societies or traditional
women's groups, it is important that the
women be assisted in forming themselves

into viable economic units which prevent
exploitation. The government and volun-
tary organizations can channel assistance
to organized groups that they cannot pro-
vide to dispersed family units or in-
dividuals. Further, officially registered
organizations can receive funds and
disperse loans on a flexible basis to their
members, whereas the conditions for
loans to individuals are often far more
strict and require collateral.
One of the most effective ways to
build an organization is to build upon the
foundation of traditional associations
among women. These groups take many
forms. One of the most common is the
thrift society, such as the tontin of the
market women in Togoland or the arisan in
Indonesia. Here women meet regularly
and at each meeting deposit a sum of
money. The total amount is then made
available to each of the members in rota-
tion. This allows each woman to have suf-
ficient capital at one time to make a major
investment such as repairs on the house,
buying bulk commodities for sale, pur-
chasing tools or any other outlay that
would be beyond her individual capacity.
When such a group works well it can even
provide guarantees for individual
members who take out loans from outside
agencies; it can act as a pressure group to
see that loans are repaid and, if a member
is unable to make a payment due to un-
foreseen circumstances, members can
pool their resources to pay back a loan at
the specified time.
Unfortunately, most development pro-
jects ignore traditional social groups and
try to introduce new institutional struc-
tures. Acceptance of innovations and
long-run success may often be greater if
they instead attempted to strengthen ex-
isting associations to handle different
The type of institutional structure
usually introduced in connection with
handicrafts projects is the cooperative
along the western model of cooperative
organization. This generally means that a
system is introduced which requires
detailed record keeping and therefore a
relatively high level of literacy for the
cooperative's leaders. Since women in
many parts of the world are either non-
literate or only marginally literate, leader-
ship roles in such groups very often fall
into the hands of literate men. It is there-
fore not hard to understand why women
members in such groups soon loose in-

vt' r
z t


terest. If cooperatives are to be used suc-
cessfully to help women it is necessary
either to simplify the procedures or give
expert managerial assistance. For exam-
ple, in Iran a cooperative organizer was
made available to assist in the organiza-
tion and maintenance of rural women's
cooperatives. Members were helped with
complicated books, financial transac-
tions, purchase of raw materials and sale
of finished goods. The organizer also
served as a link between the society and
the cooperative marketing organization.
This model has been very successful in
Iran and could possibly be an effective
way to provide this type of needed
assistance to women's groups.
Another method developed by the
handicrafts cooperatives in India involves
provision of managerial assistance at the
inception of the cooperative and for the
first few years on a declining basis. At the
end of this period it is expected that the
cooperative will either have acquired the
necessary managerial skills or will have
sufficient income to pay a professional
manager.* Perhaps the most effective
method would be a blend of these two
schemes adding a component to train
members to assume managerial tasks.

Selected members would receive short-
term, intensive training to prepare them
for leadership roles within the organiza-
It should be stressed that cooperatives
are not the only answer. In the early
stages, women may prefer to opt for a
less highly structured form of organization.
There are a number of intermediate forms
of association that m'ay be used to advan-
tage such as the collective renting of
space or buying of materials or organiza-
tional structures that provide a fixed wage
for women plus an opportunity for profit
sharing. The structure should be the one
best suited to the needs and resources of
the members.
In addition it should be remembered
that associations of women are not just a
way of organizing commercial enterprises.
They also have a social function that
makes the members feel a part of the com-
munity. In areas where social custom does
not allow women to participate in ac-
tivities outside the home or amongst men,
a women's association can be a first step
towards the outside world. Here members
can meet other women having different
life experiences and can participate in ac-
tivities which also bring them out of the
enclosed environment in which they often

*See the SEEDS issue, "Market Women's
Cooperatives: Giving Women Credit"

Handicrafts can be a means of in-
creasing income for women in some set-
tings, but only under the conditions
outlined above, since crafts are spe-
cialized activities which have limited
markets and offer limited potential as a
means of employment. The following
points summarize a few of the key issues
that must be addressed when considering
a handicrafts program for women:

1. "Feminine"crafts are essentially
time-consuming, give poor returns,
and offer little possibility for up-
grading skills.
2. Therefore, before embarking on a
handicrafts scheme, study the ex-
isting conditions in which women
are working, the possibilities that
are open to them based upon tradi-
tional skills or easily acquired new
skills, and prospects for creating
and managing the organizational
structure needed to provide sup-
port for a handicrafts project.
Remember handicrafts are often a
more complicated way of gener-
ating income for women than other
choices such as food processing
for local markets.

3. Think creatively about income-
generating opportunities for
women. Women can do any of the
jobs which are done by men, pro-
vided they have access to the train-
ing and to the employment market!
4. It is imperative to make a thorough
market study before any activity of
a commercial nature is under-
5. Links with the traditional market
which is a regular market -
should not be broken while explor-
ing new outlets for products.
6. Key elements of a successful pro-
ject are a well motivated and com-
petent technical staff and proper
management that can give
necessary guidance and help the
group to diversify, uphold quality
in the product line, and maintain
access to markets.
It is necessary to exercise caution
when developing the field of handicrafts.
It can be a means of providing a viable in-
come, but it can also be a means of ex-
ploitation, serving only to increase the
burdens women already shoulder and cut-
ting them off from opportunities to im-
prove their economic and social position.


The following are sources of information about regional
handicrafts programs, including technical assistance.

Regional Organizations Providing
Technical Assistance

African Training and Research Centre
for Women (ATRCW)
United National Economic Commission
for Africa
P.O. Box 3001
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Attention: Mary Tadesse

Women's Programme Centre
U.N. Building
Rajdamnarn Avenue
Bangkok, Thailand
Attention: Daw Awe
All India Handicrafts Board
Government of India
Ramakrishna Puram
New Delhi, India

Women's Programme Unit
Castilla 179/D
Santiago, Chile
Attention: Erma Garcia-Schfardet

Women in Development Unit
Extra-Mural Centre
University of the West Indies
St. Michael, Barbados
Attention: Peggy Antrobus
Women in Development
6 Bartletts
Christ Church, Barbados
Attention: Lynn Allison

International Labour Organization
CH 1211
Geneva 22, Switzerland
International Trade Centre
CH 1211
Geneva 22, Switzerland

World Crafts Council
20 West 55th Street
New York, New York 10019 USA

Technical Assistant Consultants

Consultants in Development
2130 P. Street, N.W.
Suite 803
Washington, D.C. 20037
Attention: Maryanne Dulansey
(Provides services on a fee basis in small
enterprise development such as feasibility
studies, management consulting, market
research, and product development.)


"Third World Producers' Guide to Alterna-
tive Marketing." by David Dichter
for information contact:
David Dichter & Associates
9 Rue de Vermont
1202 Geneva, Switzerland

"Notes on the International Workshop on
Alternative Marketing Organizations and
Third World Producers" (Sept. 3-8, 1976,
for information contact:
Stichting Ontwikkelings Samenwerking
Holzstraat 19

Consultants in Development (CID)
"Expanding the External Market for Third
World Crafts: The Role of Alternative Mar-
keting Organizations" (English, French,
"Formats to Evaluate the Feasibility of
Developing Small Industry Projects"
(English, French, Spanish)
"Craft Item Information Form" (English,
French, Spanish)
"Manuel, seminaire/atelier sur I'artisinat"
All CID publications are for sale. In some
cases they will be made available to Third
World programs on an exchange of publi-
cation basis, at the discretion of CID.
for information contact:
Maryanne Dulansey
Consultants in Development
2130 P Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037 USA

Design John Cotterman
Typography Lunar Graphics
Cover Photo United Nations
Printing Graphic Impressions, Inc.

Jasleen Dhamija is at present Chief of Small Industries and Handicrafts Division
for African Women, a joint project of the International Labour Organization and the U.N.
Economic Commission for Africa. She began her career in India 26 years ago in the
pioneering work of developing handicrafts and rural industries. She also worked in Iran
for six years with rural, non-farm activities and on curriculum development of applied
arts and Asian culture at Farabi University. She has a deep involvement in rural develop-
ment and folk art. She has written a number of books on the subject.

We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which
might be included in future editions of SEEDS. If you would
like additional copies of this issue or would like to be
included on the SEEDS mailing list, please write to:

Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163 U.S.A.

P Box 3923 Grand Central Station. New York, N.Y 10163

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