Baandhani Livelihood

Shelter Associates created the Baandhani Partnership to empower women within informal urban settlements such as slums. 

The Cloth Bag Project

While collecting data from the slums in Pune and Sangli, Shelter Associates noticed that among the urban poor, women were far less likely to be employed than men.  In the Sangli slums, only 30% of women were employed, compared to almost 70% in the slums of Pune.  However when these women were employed, their jobs were often poorly paid, precarious, and unsafe.  The women in the slums urgently needed a safe way to support themselves and their families.  

Shelter Associates used the collected slum data to develop a sustainable means of earning an income by initiating an income generation project based on their existing skills.  In considering potential projects, we looked for options that would not only help the women, but would also be sensitive to the environment.  Shelter Associates had long been aware of the buildup of plastic waste, and through developing the Cloth Bag Project, we found a way to empower women in the slums by utilizing thier exisitng skills while improving the environment.

The project involves teaching women how to use their sewing skills to produce reusable shopping bags, which are sold both locally and internationally.  The money generated from the bags provide the women with a consistent and sustainable means of support.  The project also allows the women to stitch the bags at home, so that they do not have to leave their children to find work.  The bags serve as a practical alternative to plastic shopping bags and promote a cleaner and healthier environment.

How It Works

Every cloth bag is handmade by a woman in Pune or Sangli, which gives each one a personal touch.  The bags are unique and each one is of a different size and colors.

The bags are designed to be strong, sturdy, and easily collapsible; making them ideal reusable shopping bags.  The smallest bags can safely carry 10 lbs, and the largest bags can carry around 30 lbs.  When the bags are not being used, they can be stuffed into their convenient inner pockets, making them small enough to fit in a purse or even a pocket.


Currently, Shelter Associates is focusing on training women who already have a basic knowledge of sewing.  Shelter Associates teaches these women how to make the cloth bags by building on the skills they already possess.  Being able to earn a consistent income and help support their families gives the women confidence, increased independence, and a stronger voice in the family and the community.

Shelter Associates is also working on a more comprehensive training programme that will be targeted towards women with no prior knowledge of sewing.  This programme will teach the women basic sewing skills, with which they can learn how to make the cloth bags.  The programme will also teach the women the other aspects of the project, including how to recruit and train other women to sew the bags, and how to sell them in local markets.  With this programme, the women will have all of the information they need to eventually run the project themselves.

Environment Friendly

Many people in Pune and Sangli use plastic bags for their daily shopping.  When these bags are worn out, they are either disposed on an open space or burnt.  This buildup of plastic and burning of waste is extremely harmful to the environment and hazardous to human health; plastic bags are also harmful to animals that mistakenly ingest them.

The proliferation of plastic waste is not only a problem in Pune and Sangli, it is a global issue.  Shelter Associates is working to combat the buildup of plastic waste through the use of reusable shopping bags sewn by women from the slums.  The cloth bags provide a practical alternative to plastic shopping bags and serve as a reminder for us all to discourage environmental degradation.

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