Interview with Nirmanshree staff

We engage in a conversation with Balasaheb Suvarnakar, the State Programme Manager for Project Nirmanshree in Maharashtra, to gain insights into his perspective on the impactful work undertaken at Beed and Osmanabad

1. Tell us about your role in Project Nirmanshree.

I work as a State Programme Manager for Project Nirmanshree in Maharashtra. I joined Habitat India as a District Coordinator for the project on 7th July 2021. I was eventually promoted to State Programme Manager. When I first joined the project, we were training women to obtain RPL certification and access government schemes.

2. What motivated you to join Project Nirmanshree and Habitat for Humanity India?

I am from Maharashtra and Project Nirmanshree happened to be located in the areas where I was raised. I have also worked with a lot of communities. The work done under Project Nirmanshree was very different from the work I had done till now. I haven’t seen such interventions focused on women in the construction sector. I knew of the trouble and discrimination women construction workers face. I thought that this was good work being done for women construction workers and that became one of the reasons I decided to join the project.

3. You have worked with the project for a while now. Do you have any memorable experiences or an incident you would like to share about your time working on the field?

There is a village called Sukhli at Khed in Beed district. There are many women there who work in the construction sector as labourers. They work very hard to make ends meet. We helped them register with the Maharashtra Building and Other Construction Worker’s Welfare Board (BOCW). This helped them obtain the BOCW kits and registration cards given by the government. We also helped their children obtain scholarships provided by the government under the scheme. They were grateful with the work Habitat India was doing with their community. And they did their part in spreading the word about the work we were doing. Now, when we go to that area, many women have already heard about Project Nirmanshree and they have a positive response to the work that we do. As a part of the BOCW scheme, lunch is provided to the women construction workers during their work hours.

4. What are some of the challenges you have faced while working for Project Nirmanshree?

In the beginning, our team had a hard time trying to convince the women to speak to us. Eventually, they started joining us. And when the community saw the work that we were doing, they also started convincing the women in their families to join us. Women started taking the lead and they supported our team in motivating others to join us. When we found it difficult to breakthrough into a community, we reached out to women who had leadership qualities for their help. Many have urged us to extend the duration of the project to help them stand steadily on their own feet. There are women who want to directly work with contractors at the village level. They now realise that they too can become assistant masons or masons. They come to us when they do not receive work. We are also in touch with contractors over WhatsApp groups and talk to them directly in case the women face any difficulties.

5. Have your views on women empowerment changed after you started working with Project Nirmanshree?

Yes. The goal of Project Nirmanshree is women empowerment. We do our work with the objective of envisioning a gender-just society. We faced problems in the beginning. We did not know how to approach contractors, how to work on constructions sites, and how to communicate our message with the community. Finally, it was the women who came to our rescue. Personally, I have learnt a lot from the women I have worked with. They do all they can to better their own lives and the lives of their families. I admire their dedication to work towards the goals envisioned under Project Nirmanshree. They see a better life for themselves with the guidance that we are providing.

6. Would you like to keep working for women empowerment within the social sector even after the completion of Project Nirmanshree?

Yes. At the end of the day, if we are to bring changes within communities, we must work in tandem with women. This is not something that can be done in a year or two. We have to keep working towards a gender-just society. Women are not truly free yet. One must work at sensitising families and communities. Women should be at the forefront of this fight towards equality.

7. Do you have any recommendations going ahead?

Going forward, if we focus on the women’s collectives, we will be able to reach more women. It is important that we try to scale up the work done under Project Nirmanshree. When we collaborate with the collectives and its members at the district level, our work will be more effective.