Employment & Entrepreneurship

From child brides to artisans: How the IKEA Foundation is helping Indian women living in poverty earn their own incomes

“I was married off at the age of 15. I never got an opportunity to become something.”

Saroj (31) grew up in an impoverished village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. As one of six children born to a farmer, she couldn’t afford to go to school beyond 8th grade. This is her story:

“When I was a child,” she recalls, “I used to go to school and was very happy. I had lots of friends. Now those memories are almost all gone. Once I came to my husband’s home, I forgot everything.”

Life in her husband’s house restricted her freedoms and opportunities even further. ”My husband didn’t have much work,” she explains. “He was learning carpet work and would only work intermittently.”

All the money he earned was spent on his father and brothers. Saroj eventually had four children but no money and no skills—or permission from her husband—to earn a living of her own. “I was really suffering at home. I thought that if I got some work I would do it, so some of our hardships would reduce.”

New skills lead to a better life

Saroj’s prospects for the future began changing when representatives from a women’s empowerment programme funded by the IKEA Foundation came to her village and offered her the chance to learn new skills.

“They made a group of twelve women and told us we would get to learn embroidery and stitching. My husband and others at home weren’t allowing me to go out of the house. They said these were all lies. But I said, ‘If this opportunity has come, I will do it, whether it is all right or all lies.’ I did get a scolding from everyone at home, but I ignored it.”

And her perseverance is indeed paying off. After gaining entrepreneurial skills in the programme, she joined a social enterprise called Rangsutra, which has a long-term partnership with IKEA initiative Next Generation social entrepreneurs. Saroj is now employed as an artisan creating handmade limited-edition collections of home accessories sold in selected IKEA stores.

“My dream is that I do more work, like I am doing for IKEA,” she says. Most importantly, with the money she earns, she is able to fulfil a dream she has had for her children since she was a child herself. “All of my children go to school. My dream is that they go far in life, that they study and progress and become what they want to.”

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New grant will help many more women in India

The IKEA Foundation wants to empower many more women like Saroj, so they can provide their families with a reliable income and their kids can go to school instead of work. That’s why today the IKEA Foundation announced a new grant to UNDP and Xyntéo. The two organisations will develop a programme in India to help vulnerable young women learn marketable skills and to connect them to income opportunities.

The project aims to help women become economically self-sufficient so they, their families and future generations can have better opportunities in life.

The IKEA Foundation believes women can be the most important catalysts for change in their children’s lives. By empowering women, we can improve children’s health, education and futures—and that’s why the Foundation is supporting this innovative collaboration.

As Saroj herself says: “A mother would only want her children to be happy and live well.”

Learn more about how the IKEA Foundation empowers women and take a look at the related press release here.