Female Development Project


“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens
– Michelle Obama, Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, 2014.[1]

Outline of this page:

Our strategy
Collectively, our strategies seek to meet both the immediate, and the strategic needs of local women to help women in the present and build better systems for women in the future

Our work
Developmental projects for women offering practical training and encouraging education and independence. We also provide health, counselling, and financial services for vulnerable women.

Keep reading to learn about the reasons for our policy interventions, and to see a breakdown of our policy methodology and costs.

Click to view the enlarged system map
  • Minority low caste beneficiaries
  • Vocational training for underprivileged women
  • Tailoring teacher at one of the WOCTADs
  • HIV victim learning tailoring
  • Beneficiaries with Business Capital from the Government
  • Computer Training for poor rural women
  • Handicrafts Training for beneficiaries
  • Women developing their embroidery skills
  • Technical skill development at one of the centers

Wider Context

The female gender: Historically, a person’s biological sex was wrongly assumed to determine their characteristics and abilities, used to determine their roles, responsibilities, and their societal value. Misconceptions about gender allowed the development of institutions founded in misogynistic beliefs of female inferiority, resulting in global systems which  perpetually exploited, undervalued, restricted, and silenced women.[2]

Women continue to suffer on account of their gender: Despite global progress towards gender equality, these misogynistic systems and misconceptions surrounding women remain both pervasive and persistent. While more women are in work, this has not resulted in better employment conditions, or in equal pay.[3] Women continue to shoulder the majority of domestic duties, spending three times as many hours as men in positions of unpaid care and domestic work.[4]Women are considerably over-represented in slums, and severely under-represented in decision-making roles – in the private sector, public bureaucracies, or the home.[5] Further, only 57% of women from 15-49 were able to make decisions about their own sexual relations, contraceptives, and reproductive health.[6] One in five women in this same age bracket experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12 month period.[7]

In 2018, one survey found India to be the most dangerous country in the world for women due to cultural and religious practices, sexual violence, human trafficking rates, and forced labour.[8] From an early age, Indian women in rural areas suffer on account of their gender. In rural areas, schools are likely to be more poorly-equipped, poorly-staffed, have lower retention rates, and are less accessible. The shortcomings of rural education systems are particularly worrying for young girls, less able to safely make a long journey alone to school, and further constrained by societal restrictions and domestic obligations, imposed more heavily on girls than boys.[9] When girls are able to make it to school, their responsibilities towards their family and their domestic duties impose further time constraints on young girls, leaving many unable to continue with their education past primary school level. The lower educational attainment rates of women in these areas results in higher illiteracy rates for women, reducing their employment opportunities. This is one of the reasons women are more likely to be employed in hazardous conditions with low pay, making them extremely financially and physically vulnerable.[10] In Tiruvannamalai, women rely on the agricultural sector for employment – a particularly insecure position considering most landlords are men of higher castes, and due to the increasingly frequent droughts and extreme weather patterns characteristic of the Tiruvannamalai area. This contributes to wives’ personal vulnerability within their marriages, with high rates of domestic abuse, as well as a lack of financial independence, and an inability to travel independently or enter employment without the permission of a other family members.[11]

A vulnerable position: Indian women in Tiruvannamalai are in a vulnerable position – vulnerabilities which will only worsen with climate change, economic turmoil, and COVID-19. While women played a disproportionate role in responding to the virus as frontline healthcare workers and domestic carers, they were also harder hit by the accompanying economic downturn due to decreased job security, with nearly 60% of employed women working in the informal economy.[12] Further, due to lockdown measures, early research suggests women are experiencing more domestic violence due to lockdown, finding it more difficult to accesses services for help.[13]

Gender equality: a precondition for sustainable development: Aside from a moral infringement of the human rights of half the world’s population, gender inequality has wider damaging implications. Women have historically been performing forms of labour which have been undervalued and overlooked. Women are disproportionately responsible for childbearing, childbearing, domestic world, agricultural production, food preparation, water, and fuel collection. Women are responsible for water collection in 80% of homes without access to water on premises.[14] Women make an invaluable contribution to local communities, implying their health, opportunities, and rights must be prioritised in the interests of the wider community. Recent research implies gender equality, poverty elimination, and environmental protection are all necessary for sustainable development, and are intimately linked – each goal depends on the success of the others.[15] Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, represent the largest source of potential labour, act as the backbone of agricultural production and water collection, share the biggest role in raising future generations, and are most vulnerable to environmental disasters.[16] As 2001 UN president Kofi Annan stated: ‘Gender equality [is] a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance’ – Kofi Annan.[17]


Policy interventions targeting structural transformation: Only one in three researchers is female, and even fewer occupy positions of political power.[18] Historic attempts to tackle female poverty and health in rural communities has therefore often failed to understand the systemic conditions limiting women. For this reason, the communal benefits of improving health facilities, education systems, and public resources in rural communities can fail to reach women.[19] For example, investing in well-equipped local schools fails to benefit women if young girls are still under societal pressure to perform their domestic duties, meaning they remain unable to enjoy improved school facilities. Gender equality requires widespread societal transformation, with the dramatic upheaval of embedded institutions and systems. Policy interventions are unable to do this individually, so must be designed to target areas of systemic structures where there lies the greatest opportunity for change.[20]

Our work

Women center for vocational training

Our approach

1. Meet their immediate needs:

While looking to the future for societal transformation, we must meet the needs of women in the present. We must provide protection, health services, counselling and support, financial aid etc. Once their immediate needs are met, we’re able to pave the way for long-term change.

Financial independence was considered the most important factor to achieve equality with men in India.[21] We provide training courses for women to begin building their own businesses. We provide sewing machines, computers, raw materials, and stipends to help cover living expenses (food, travel, rent etc) during their training period. (see here for breakdown of costs)

Provide identity cards for women in unregulated employment. These cards allow women to get life security funds, their daughter’s marriage allowance, delivery (childbirth) allowance etc from the Ministry of Labour.

2. Meet their strategic needs:

We use these to prepare for the future: we focus on education opportunities, increased participation in decision-making roles, improved employment opportunities, and emphasising ownership rights for women. These are steps aimed at equipping women with the skills, knowledge, and resources to make structural, transformative change, paving the way towards gender equality in the future. Our youth program targets women from 18-30, a key stage for development.

We provide women with income-generating skills and form self-help groups to help women build their own businesses and gain work experience.

We provide expert counselling services advising women in employment, personal finance, reproductive health etc to support them in their independent growth.

3. Ensure institutional involvement:

There is evidence to suggest these types of interventions are more successful when centred around grassroots female participation in rural areas.[22]

Every fiscal year, we invite two of our beneficiaries to form part of our advisory board. Further, we are a majority-female organisation, ensuring women remain at the centre of strategy and decision-making for all of our policies.

Our projects

1. Women Self Help Groups
2. Expert counselling services
3. Emergency support and counselling
4. Entrepreneurial development
5. Vocational training through our Women Centers for Training, Advocacy and Development (WoCTAD).


[1]Obama White House archives. “Remarks by the First Lady at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.” (2014)
[2] Abiuyada, Reem. “Gender, Poverty Elimination and Environmental Protection: Three Key Paths to Sustainable Rural Development.” International Journal of Social Science Studies Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan 2017) pp. 1-6. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/ijsoctu5&i=5
[4] UN Women. “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2019.” (Sep 2019) https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/09/progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2019
[5] UN Sustainable Development Goals. “Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/
[6] Statista. “Women in India – statistics & facts.” (Jun 2020) https://www.statista.com/topics/5220/women-in-india/
[7] Orla, Kelly and Jacqueline Bhabha. “Beyond the education silo? Tackling adolescent secondary education in rural India.” British Journal of Sociology of Education Vol. 35, No. 5 (Sep 3014) pp731-752. DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2014.919843.
[8] Kolachalam, Namrata. “Caste, the Patriarchy, and Climate Change.” Slate, The Slate Group, 15 February 2019, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/02/india-dalit-tamil-nadu-caste-climate-change-farming.html
[9] Manjunatha, N.K. and Hurakadli, S.M. “A Discourse on Gender Disparity: A Study on Taluks of Belagavi District.” International Journal of Trend in Scientific Research and Development Vol. 1, No. 5 (2017) pp. 1126-1131. https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-53340-9
[10] Vlassoff, C. “Toward Gender Equality in Rural India: Prospects for Change.” in Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://0-doi-org.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/10.1057/9781137373922_9.

Disclaimer – Despite the existence of similar centers run by the government, there are at most three centers per district – districts which are over 2000 sq.km. each. Moreover, the government is incapable of opening centers in every single village in the country. Thus, SHAPE maintains this project of ours in order to enhance the impacts of these centers and allow all impoverished women residing in remote villages access to such benefits, too. In other words, we bring the advantages and perks of such centers within reach of all the underprivileged, leaving nobody behind.


ODI Gender Equality: https://www.odi.org/our-work/programmes/gender-equality-and-social-inclusion

UN Women: https://www.unwomen.org/en

UN: https://news.un.org/en/tags/womens-empowerment

Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/Women-Empowerment