The Gaddi Women's Self-Help Society
An Himalayan Women�s Association in India

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Women , a  majority  of  the  world�s  population , receive  only  a  small  share  of  developmental  opportunities . They  are  often  excluded  from  education  or  from  the  better  jobs , from  political  systems  or  from  adequate  health  care �..In  the  countries  for  which  relevant  data  are  available , the  female  human  development  index  is  only  60% that  of  males.�  Human  Development  Report  1993  United  Nations  Development  Program


�We  not  only  want  a  piece  of  the  pie , we  also  want  to  choose  the  flavour  and  know  how  to  make  it  ourselves.�  Ela Bhatt  (Self  Employed  Women�s  Association)


�Gods reside where woman is worshipped.� Manusmrti Ch 3, SL 56


�Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.� Margaret Mead


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Mountain viewDharmkot, Bhagsu (or Bhagsunag), Naddi, and Baal are small mountain villages in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. They are inhabited by a population of half-nomadic Hindu shepherds, the Gaddis, who speak their own language and have their own  traditions and occupations.

Since 1996, a group of women from these remote mountain hamlets are working and learning together in a local association,  �The Gaddi Women's Self Help Society." These are who women never had a chance to go to school, widows in desperate need to support their family, newly graduated young women in search of decent employment, and a French school teacher on sabbatical leave, Isabelle Pompignat Mahendroo. At the same time, the Society works to improve access for local children to primary school.

The women draw a monthly salary for their part-time work; part-time work enables them to do the domestic chores in the farms. Decisions are made during the weekly meetings, where they learn to purchase, produce, promote, deliver, sell, keep the accounts, and write bills. As they work they get basic training in writing, reading, arithmetic, basic rules of democracy, and decision making. The donors who support the society help make the experiment a growing reality, giving the women time to acquire knowledge and self confidence. This project has given training in different skills and created gainful employment for Gaddi women and girls.

All the money used for running the society comes through donations from friends or charitable institutions. The only exception is the salaries paid to the women working in the Food Processing unit, where they are paid with earnings from the sale of their products. The money received for funding goes into a common pool; from there it is used as and when required. SHAMA, Inc. helps support the efforts of these women.

The Food Making Unit, started  in 1996, the three Tailoring Schools, and the computer center seem to be reaching out to more and more people. Isabelle says, "The fact that now I have more help for my work encourages me to reach out towards those interior regions where there is less access to educational facilities for children or income generation programs for women."

Food Making || Computer Center || Tailoring Schools
2004 Report

Goals: Women's education, women's right to employment, skill training, and training of businesses run by women.

Principles: Transparency, accountability, decision-making on a democratic basis, a society directed and governed by women.

Purposes of Training: Training is based on the students' convenience and interests, not the teacher's.

Isabelle Mahendroo

Isabelle Pompignat Mahendroo, a teacher in France, is presently on an extended sabbatical with the purpose of educating and helping the tribal women of Himalayan regions to be self-reliant. Married in India and blessed with a child, "Mridul Jeremy," Mrs. Mahendroo has managed and run the Gaddi Women's Self-help Society since 1996. Her husband, Alok Mahendroo, teaches computer skills to villagers on a voluntary basis, as well as the making of items to sell.



Mrs. Jyoti Chander of Stevens Point, WI, president of SHAMA, Inc., visited the Gaddi projects in December 2003. Her observations can be found here.

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Isabelle walking over a mountain with her baby on her back.
Isabelle walking over a mountain
with Mridul Jeremy on her back (2003).

Isabelle in a village with her baby.
Isabelle with Mridul Jeremy in a village (2003).




Postal address:

  Isabelle Pompignat Mahendroo
  The Gaddi Women�s Self-help Society
   Village � Dhupnal
   P.O. - Bhagsunag
   District � Kangra
   Himachal Pradesh
   India � 176219
E-mail: /    

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