The Women at ANTS

International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8 every year. It commemorates the struggle for women’s rights in different parts of the world.

It is celebrated with gusto in India, more since the last 5 years or so. We at ANTS work with a lot of women, and we took this chance to know these women and turned to them for some inspiration and banter. Through these simple questions we try and to get to know a glimpse of the women working at our organisation.

What got you started at ANTS? How has it made a difference to what you do?

What does it mean to be a Woman?

Any difference you see in your industry and other industries?
As a woman, what would you do to make it better?

Khiri Basumatary – Weaver at ANTS

I joined ANTS in 2013 as a weaver. I like weaving and would do it at home anyways, so I started with the weaving program here. Now I am lookedup with some respect in my weaving group of Aagor. Home is always a busy place, so for weaving in peace I went to ANTS. WhatsApp Image 2017-03-08 at 9.15.09 AM

Deepali, a woman I know asked me if I can weave suta, so I agreed. Because of my work in ANTS I get to see many places, like Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Bangalore with fellow weavers and friends. We also got awarded in one Mumbai exhibition, it feels good.

God made me a woman, I have no qualms about it, but I have observed that Men tend to talk too much about women. When I was little, I used to think that being a man is better, but I have a different opinion nowadays.

Our lives are between the thread and loom.. so that is what we need to protect and preserve. Design makes a big difference in weaving, and the way it sells. More new design will  be better and progressive for us.I wish we have more designers and professionals get an interest in working with crafts.

Smitha Murthy – Managing Director, ANTS

I started off with ANTS (the trust) as a student,  and worked with them for my final project at Shristi. ANTS Trust was trying to start their weaving program. My final project was about that – Weaving Peace.
This was at the time after the Bodo insurgency and unrest, so I made sure the project mission was
1. Sustainable livelihoods for the weavers
2. Promote positive stories of the Bodos

I started my project with 5 weavers in 5 villages and the aim was to make designer wear with no change in the traditional Bodo Identity or colours. Just some contemporary collection using the same.
The first exhibition happened in Delhi, and it was a huge success, it was sold out. I knew this marked something of a success and more weavers were interested in working now.

I was now back in Bangalore deciding deciding between Craft or Corporate and had started working with an export firm, believing that the ground work had been done in at ANTS after setting up a a Design cell which designers could take up work in.  But due to the political unrest maybe there wasn’t much happening there now.  That’s when I decided that I would go back  and land I stayed there for 3 years.
After a point the Design Support Centre, in Bongaigaon was full well and functioning, other states like Meghalaya realised the importance of it.  ANTS craft was then registered as an association of weavers, so it becomes a sustainable unit even when I move away.
To market the Weaves,  I had to make a marketing platform outside of the NE, so I came to Bangalore and tried to set up a space for ANTs craft and the North East, so a retail store was set up which we can now see and then later the cafe came up.

ANTS gave me the opportunity to express my creativity and I learned a lot. Northeast was then a challenging place in itself.  I was grateful for the exposure to the NE, where I got to channeling my creativity and learn,  I didn’t want work anywhere else. I’m very glad  glad I supported the larger cause of livelihoods and women empowerment.  And in a small way influenced the unrest. All of these,  Retail,  identity, design and tools, all go back to the cause,  which I never want to let go of – Livelihoods and the betterment of the people.

I feel that sometimes being a Woman is taken advantage of – this has  to be addressed everyday, and not just for one day. It is as big a cause as racism and poverty. We shouldn’t make it about one day and then still come back to the same behaviour and mindset the next. If we make it sensational, people look for stories, it just becomes a media hype.
Sometimes women are praised and hailed professionally, maybe because she succeeded in a man’s space, but she will still have to finish her responsibilities at home. It a tough balance to keep and we tend to take on more because of this. Women try and fit in too much onto their plates for the fear of freedom, it could be the freedom of money or choice. Economic Independence has overburdened some women and really overfilled their plates.

One thing I have realized after looking at many industries is that wherever there was a subject of income, it was a man’s job. I can give you a good example of that in my industry.

North East is the o2013-10-13 09.40.27nly region in India where primary weavers are Women – The rest of the country crafts have male craftsmen. This is because the weaving done at the NE wasn’t an income generating activity but a social/household activity.
Money and Income used to always decide the gender spaces.
It’s good to be aware of what you do and how it is affecting your family, society and culture as a whole. I wish more women can balance life between their duties and responsibility and independence. Beyond everything, be it professional work or home, I just hope women feel fulfilled.

I want to change the stereotypes of Gender – like Girls are better at sales and men can’t craft etc. In today’s world especially everyone should be given a fair chance. Sometimes we see a bias just in shortlisting of candidates for a position. Yes there are always variables of risk for a woman to work late etc, but we need to consider the credibility of the person before gender than just writing them off.

Shweta Shettar – Designer at ANTS

I started with ANTS on a college project, where I did a project at the Design Support center based in Bangalore, to create association between designers and the North East. I had known Smitha since college – she was a senior. I did a project witht the Mishing tribe of Dubaati near Kaziranga. When Ants started their shop I joined as a consultant now I take care of the retail and the whole sale both.

I liked the ANTS method of working with remote tribes, understanding their sensibilities and keeping their identities alive. It has changed my way of interacting with artisans, as I get to work with different Artisan groups across India. I like to work with the ANTS brand, with it’s credibility in the Industry. I get to see a lot of Perspectives – retail space, cafe, wholesale and export. You don many hats and not a little box of design, the many roles broaden my experience.

DSC_0202A woman should be independent, not just financially but also emotionally, and be fearless. I’ve met women who are apologetic for making a perfect home for her family, when she shouldn’t be. That’s a big job in itself. The barrier is in their heads, you are the biggest barrier. If you are fearless and confident, you can achieve a lot.

ANTS is a woman oriented workplace, still any workplace has to allow women independence with caution. The only hardship I had to personally experience was travelling to far off remote places, but if you exercise caution, it shouldn’t be a problem.

All the ANTS weavers, artisans should believe that you’re adding to your family, workplace. Be confident that you are contributing. We need to change the attitude towards this. I would celebrate Women’s day purely for managing work, home, children etc. Women need to feel valuable and know their value. And be confident of it.

I would say the crafts are undervalued, people do not value the art, the heritage and the hours put in. People need to be educated about the value a piece of craft holds. Not just the people working with the Artisans, but the office people and the admin as well. Handmade is sometimes just used as a tag for social work. If I say I work with crafts, people sometimes mistake it to be volunteering. The social sector has understood the value of professionalism, and vice versa. The youngsters need to know that this is a viable profession and can support families.

A big salute to ANTS for making a difference in so many women’s lives.
A hearty wish for Women’s Day from all the women at ANTS Bangalore!!

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