photography: Chris Ross
Zenana: from Persian, means (in India and Iran), the part of a house for the seclusion of women
As you can see from the definition of ‘Zenana’, it refers to the confinement of women in traditional Indian homes, whether Muslim or Hindu, a centuries-old practice that still has an influence in conservative communities in India today. In the zenana, women were protected from interaction with all men, apart from immediate family – confined, protected, restricted, but also, within those limitations, in control of their lives and much of the household management.
We are a manufacturer of ethical textile products, the centre of our existence being the women we employ in India according to the principles of fair trade. Our workers, who live in the slums of the city, are not physically confined to a zenana, but they are limited in many ways by their poverty: a metaphorical zenana. Our goal is to empower them, within this modern-day zenana.Our Indian company offers the dignity of employment and fair pay, along with excellent working conditions, and all of its profits are dedicated to growing its capacity to employ, train and support the families of the women it has been established to assist.
And so this word, that represents their lives in the slums, we use in our business name, Zenana Women, as a constant reminder of the reason we exist.
How to pronounce it? Easy ... ‘Zenana’ rhymes with ‘banana’!
To be socially sustainable is our mission. The organisation was started in order to do something, no matter how small, about the poverty and exploitation we saw during two years living in Lucknow, north India.
Our business model is that of a social enterprise: rather than generate financial good for shareholders, our goal is to generate social good for our employees and their families. Our profits are totally dedicated to this purpose.
We strive to meet the 10 Standards of Fair Trade, as prescribed by the World Fair Trade Organisation. These can be read in detail at http://www.fta.org.au. In our particular business, this means paying our workers fairly for their labour, providing excellent working conditions and opportunities for training and education, sourcing as many of our fabrics as possible from weavers’ cooperatives, and being as environmentally responsible as we can.
Because we set up the production unit ourselves and recruited the staff, and because we manage the unit ourselves through daily, often hourly, contact with the managers, as well as visiting once or twice a year, we are confident in claiming these ethical standards are genuine.
We are members of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ), and are proud to have been endorsed by that organisation as a Fair Trader of Australia. Information about this initiative of FTAANZ can be found on its website, www.fairtraders.org.au, where you will find us listed, and also featured in the downloadable brochure.
To be environmentally sustainable is essential to us. Not only is environmental responsibility one of the 10 Standards of Fair Trade, it is also a vital part of our ethic. It is very short-term thinking to be concerned with poverty alleviation and ignore the environment.