Inspiring Women

Women in India: The Hustler of Goa

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On the tropical shores of the Indian state of Goa, it’s not uncommon to see locals pitching their wares as you sunbathe in the scorching heat. Men saunter by, flashing elephant-printed shawls and wraps, women trudge by pitching cool mango slices. Of all the salesmen and women on the beach, one woman in particular stands out.

Women in India: The Hustler of Goa

The women, Jana, approaches my friend and I demurely. We’re wary, wondering what she’ll pull out of her bag, but she strikes up a conversation instead. Her charisma pulls us in instantly. She sits on the edge of my reclining sun chair, confidentially, like we’re old friends, and the three of us enthusiastically participate in a cultural exchange.

In another world, in another life, this woman would be a high-salaried saleswoman or a CEO. She has something that her fellow salesman do not: sociability, confidence, the ability to draw us in and make us want to buy what she’s selling. I don’t want any of the anklets, necklaces, or bracelets she lays out on the chair beside me. But that’s okay. I’m not buying those items; I’m buying her.

India is not a stranger to women entrepreneurship. Women-formed Self-Help Groups (SHGs) abound throughout the country. The SHGs are formed so that traditionally unbankable individuals can open a savings account with the combined funds of the group, and pull out loans. In some cases, the members (normally women) are able to use the loans to start their own enterprises. Some start tailoring shops or schools, others open snack stalls, and still others form their own beauty parlors. With the burdens of poverty in rural areas, and the restrictions on women abundant, fewer women than you might think use their loans to generate more income.

Even so, none of the SHG members I ever encountered had the knack for sales like Jana. Many of the women SHG members found themselves in positions where they could acquire loans and learn skills such as tailoring to earn their own income. However, they didn’t have the sales instinct or the marketing opportunities to make any real money. Jana on the other hand had instinct in abundance and she used the beaches of Goa as her marketing channel.

Women in India: The Hustler of Goa

She tells us, seated at the edge of the lounge chair, that she’s from a remote village in the state of Karnataka. She comes to Goa for a few months out of the year, during the high tourist season, to pitch her wares and make some money for her family. Her husband is a stay-at-home father, taking care of their four children, including their one handicapped son. Looking at Jana’s flat stomach through the open flap in her sari, I doubt whether she’s ever given birth to a child in her life. This could all be part of the pitch, and yet I’m still drawn in, wanting to fuel this bright spark.

I select the items I intend to buy and the haggling process begins. I offer a price and she gives me a disdainful look. Jana of Karnataka launches into a short-winded lecture on the virtues and rhythms of bartering: “No.” She says. “First I offer a price and then you bargain. That’s how this works.” She’s right. Of course she’s right. She’s an old pro, bartering with tourists on the sparkling shores of Goa for years. I’m the amateur and I had jumped the gun.

We begin again, her offering a ludicrous price, and me shaking my head and offering about half. We ping pong back and forth, settling on a price that is by all means still too high for the quality of her products. But again, it’s not the bracelets I want. I may not even wear them. I want to see her successful, I want to imagine her taking care of her potentially non-existent family. I want her to have what a woman of her background cannot possibly have but what she deserves; an office job on Madison Avenue, tailored power suits, a classroom where she can teach the impressive skills she knows, seemingly innately.

India is in every sense of the word a developing country. Their tourism, their business, their women’s rights are all growing with awkward, sometimes dizzying spurts. It is now more common for women to go to school and get jobs, and with the perpetuation of educated women, India will start seeing major shifts in women’s roles. We may one day soon see a time where women with Jana’s graceful skills at the bargaining table are nurtured and encouraged.

Until then, you can find Jana on the beaches of Goa from November to March, with a hustle that will make you swoon.

Ariana is a writer and world traveler. Her writing covers her three main passions: women’s empowerment, travel, and culture. The beauty of the world is not just in scenic mountain views or turquoise waters; it’s in doing the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. For Ariana, that thing is stringing words together. Email her at ariana@thewaywardpost.com and follow her journey on Instagram @surrealife.

28 Comments

  1. Elia Scott

    I like the article . This is show the real status of women in India. Jana’s story is very inspiring. I think more women should read this article. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. In India, fewer than one in four women have paid jobs. While there are indications that the tide might slowly be turning the society is still pressuresing them to focus on getting married and setting up a home, rather than pursuing a career.

  3. Well no wonder she tried to overcharged you. Goa is one of the poorest places of India. As long as mining remains shut, Government of Goa will not have enough money to support the citizens, so the locals will do their best to make money off tourists.

  4. From age 6 to 11, my family and I lived in Goa, because of my father’s job then. Goa is heaven and Goan people are kindest people you will find. But of course I am talking about native Goans and not about those people who moved to Goa from othercities and call themselves Goans.

  5. Women were supressed worldwide after established religions like Christianity and Islam took over. And this situation was same everywhere with witch hunting prevalent in every country. Witch hunting was actually burning of intelligent women who refused to conform to male dominated society.
    But after 18th century India grew backward and in the west women status grew… They were given freedom and equality after 20th century. But India being backward grew against women. There goes the status of women story from ancient to present date.

  6. This is something which puzzled me for a long time. From what i see women are very much (though not solely) responsible for the present state of women in India and the patriarchal society that exists there. Most of the time i see women blaming other men for this condition while they never acknowledge the fact that their own family and consequently the society is equally responsible for this outlook. Women seldom go against their family (whatever the reasons may be) but they never leave a chance in criticizing the male community for the present condition of the society.

  7. Sadly, the status of women in India reflects a disappointing picture in almost all important human development factors. The lack of adequate schools, health centers, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities hinders a large number of women, inhibiting their social and economic development, particularly for women in rural areas. Their empowerment is vulnerable to maternal and infant mortality, as often they are unable to access health and educational services. Plus, they lack decision-making powers and face higher levels of violence.

  8. In rural India women are treated as sex objects. Government should first take measures to improvise rural India by proving education. Build schools & colleges nearby to the locals. Provide schemes like free uniform, two meals per day to attract and bring them to school. Even if they don’t learn syllabus its fine but basics are essential.

  9. Good post! Special banks are being set up to give loans to women who want to start up their own businesses in India. But in many parts of the country women lack access to the basic education that could give them the skills they need to run their own firms.

  10. I really wish one day I’ll be able to do things like this. Travelling to parts of the world and be able to help others. Thanks for such an inspiring article. 🙂

  11. Beautiful story! Such an inspirational and influental article. You are so inspiring and you have such a beautiful heart. There’s not enough people in this world like you.

  12. It’s up to us to make wise and careful choices about the products we buy, because every time we make a purchase we have the chance to help someone. I know that it can feel overwhelming, but gotta start small. By doing so, we’ll have a chance to help people around the world, and we’ll have a great story to tell every time someone compliments what we’re wearing. Just like this article of yours! 🙂

  13. Oh, I LOVE this article!!! I don’t understand the reason why women are treated as 2nd grade citizens in less developed countries like India… Yestarday I was reading an article, I was shocked as I read it…. It was about an Indian village where rules are made by men for women regarding what they can wear and what they can not…

  14. Swami Vivekanand, once said, the best thermometer to measure the development of a nation is it’s treatment of it’s women… In ancient India they worshiped goddesses like Lakshmi. They were the epitome of strength. It’s crazy how things have chnaged and women get second class citizen treatment.

  15. What men of 3rd world countries need to understand is women are building blocks of the society. Even though many people say that women need education if they want empowerement, but, the fact is a lot of women in countries such as India are educated but still unemployed… Even though they have good academics and reservations, the governmet fail to provide better income for women….So sad!

  16. An outstanding article. An imperviable reading for all who are sensitive towards such a flashing issue. I’d like to thank the author for writing such a powerful article. 🙂

  17. The Government of India and state authorities alike have increasingly realized the importance of devoting attention to the economic betterment and development of rural women in India. The Indian Constitution guarantees that there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of gender. In reality, however, rural women have harder lives and are often discriminated against with regard to land and property rights, and in access to medical facilities and rural finance. Women undertake the more onerous tasks involved in the day-to-day running of households, including the collection of fuelwood for cooking and the fetching of drinking water, and their nutritional status and literacy rates are lower than those of men. They also command lower wages as labour: as rural non-agricultural labourers, women earn 44 rupees per day compared to 67 rupees for men. Women’s voice in key institutions concerned with decision making is also limited. In 2007, only 8 per cent of all seats in the national parliament were occupied by women.

  18. Loved this article. Such an uplifting story. But I don’t think I like the part where you say “you were buying her.” I get the metaphor but I think it was still very inappropriate.

  19. Lovely article. Such a good read! Across rural India, poor women are changing their lives and their children’s lives. In the aptly-named “Self Help Groups”, millions of women are coming together to fight long-held prejudices. They are reaching out to the disabled, people with HIV, and other women who just need a little help. That’s really amazing!

  20. Amazing piece! I believe that microfinance can help empower women in less developed countries. Self-Help Groups in India has indeed helped in reducing the vulnerabilities of communities to various natural and economic forces, apart from mere increase in income.

  21. Great article! SHGs are a great source of social change. Ford Foundation is doing a good job worldwide. 🙂

  22. Sarah Ubitel

    Gotta love the hustle! Great article, really great title. Very engaging piece : )

  23. Charlotte Gurley

    hi, first i want to thank you for sharing this beautiful and meaningful experience of yours. This post struck a deep cord within me. No doubt that being a woman today in a man’s world, managing a business of their own is no cake walk. Especially for Indian women like Jana. it’s time we naturally accept women a part of the business world rather than questioning it.

  24. Lucia Pittman

    This blog is so insightful and inspiring. Their stories of hope and courage is truly inspiring, so honest and true. We appear to share so many similar thoughts, if she will sell me those bracelets I’ll buy one too! 🙂 Things have changed dramatically over the years. I think, the first important point is for women themselves to think that they are not under-powered.

  25. One of the features of Indian Economy (based on research) is regional inequality. Recently, women from rural areas became the focus of “rural empowerment” with main objectives of economic growth and stability.

    I feel happy about Jana because as you described, she has the “marketing” skills and she exhibited confidence. I hope more women from India would be like her.

  26. Haven’t been to India but I’ve read so much about the country. SHGs function as inspiration and financer (esp. for women). They help impoverished women develop financial skills as well as language to have higher levels of confidence to engage and go out to the world.

    Through your story about Jana, I’ve proven that SHGs are helpful! I hope more women would be like her.

  27. Jana showed the “real” status of women in India and I’m sincerely glad that she had sales instincts (and discovered her marketing opportunities).

    As far as I know, SHGs are informal organizations and according to what I’ve read there is poor governance and the capacity of members to enact good governance is weak. I hope SHGs be strengthened and formalized (if possible).

  28. I’m not very much familiar with India’s culture. All I know is it’s one of the developing countries. Jana’s story is inspiring and it’s good to learn about “Women SHGs.” I think organizations like these are great instruments for social change.

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