There are many historical threads that connect Maheshwar handloom weaving with a visionary perspective on women’s empowerment. In the eighteenth century, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar made Maheshwar her home, building its iconic fort and renowned temple complex. The Queen was a female ruler at a time when men controlled every aspect of political, economic and cultural life. Her approach to leadership was considered a model of its time and she ruled with a unique commitment to the local community.
In the decades following independence, Maheshwar handloom weaving had seen a decline in its markets, as industrial power loom transformed the textile economy with cheaper cloth. Realising this, Sally Holkar (née Budd) - wife of the son of the last Maharaja of the Holkar State - dedicated her life to helping the weavers of Maheshwar and, in 2002, founded WomenWeave. In so doing, she connected the threads of Maheshwar’s history and intangible cultural heritage with sustainable employment for local women today.
WomenWeave was, thus, established in Maheshwar in 2002 (registered in 2003), with the founding vision to help local women lead better lives by ensuring that handloom weaving is a profitable, sustainable, fulfilling and dignified form of livelihood for them.
WomenWeave believes that training women to weave should form part of an approach that enhances all aspects of the women’s lives, including health, childcare, and personal empowerment. This holistic approach to well-being ensures that the benefits that women reap from becoming part of WomenWeave are not only sustainable but truly life-enhancing.
As WomenWeave has grown into a thriving NGO employing over three-hundred women who work as weavers (either full or part time) and ancillary workers, so has there been a shift in the market for their woven products. In the past decade, ideas of slow fashion, sustainability and artisanal-based luxury have flourished as key niche markets both in India and internationally, affording WomenWeave a new phase of growth.
This has made the core vision of WomenWeave more relevant than ever and provided fresh impetus to its core activities, which are as follows.
WomenWeave has also recognised that true empowerment depends upon the participation of women in the governance and decision-making processes that structure WomenWeave and its activities. It has created an Artisans Board for Community Participation to facilitate decision-making and future direction. The board has been established through the women working with the project in various activities like weaving, spinning and preparatory work.