Thursday, July 22, 2010

71: The Self-Empowered Woman: Kankuben Lalabhai Parmar

Dear Followers,

Today - thanks to Guy Trebay and the New York Times - I'd like to tell you about an amazing woman who has defied all odds and become an international business woman even though, for many years, she'd never traveled outside her own home.

Kankuben Lalabhai Parmar is from the village of Madhutra in the Indian State of Gujarat. To get to Manhattan, where her crafts are being sold at the Asia Society, her journey involved an oxcart, a trishaw, a jeep flatbed. an open-topped shuttle, and then her first-ever airplane ride.

Ms. Parmar officially belongs to a "scheduled caste," which meant that she was considered untouchable; the men were limited to their region or village, and the women were traditionally bound to their homes. She is now 50 years old, but never met a man who wasn't a close relative until she was an adult.

Married at 14, she is the mother of seven children, and her life changed dramatically when (two decades ago) the not-for-profit Sewa Project came to her village to help preserve native handicrafts and create "alternative employment."

Ms. Parmar creates patchwork embroideries that often include small pieces of mirror that she buys (as scrap) by the pound. Her pillow covers, for example, require almost a week's worth of sewing and sell for about $15 at her local market. Today, she earns about $60 a month, which has made her the family's chief breadwinner.

As she told Trebay, "When I was a girl, all the assets belonged to the father or the husband or the that I have my own business and make my own money, my husband shows me respect."

Ms. Parmar is an informal ambassador for Sewa and the Crafts Council of India; it's estimated that in India alone 40 to 60 million people earn part of their living making crafts.

In New York, Ms Parmar visited museums, bought gifts at CVS for her daughters, and enjoyed all the sophistication of Manhattan even though she is illiterate and must use her thumbprint for a signature.

Twenty years have made a huge difference in the lives of the once-untouchable women of Madhutra, India. Their quiet and dignified example of global feminism should inspire us all.

Looking forward to your comments...


  1. Thank you so much Marilyn for writing about Ms Parmar. She is an inspiration to women everywhere. I love it that she is inventive, creative and brave. I hope that her example sets many of the untouchable women of Madhutra free and gives them hope and inspiration.

    Ms Parmar is truly an EMPOWERED WOMAN.