I refrained from commenting back. At the end of winter, I was able to sell the socks through Snow Leopard Enterprises. When I brought home the money, I could see the surprise on his face. Now, the comments have stopped and when he sees me knitting, he brings me cups of tea.” ~ Dolma Chhering, participant in Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) pictured above.
SLE is a women-led, conservation-focused enterprise that promotes skills, production and sale of handmade products that support women and snow leopard conservation. Participating women are directly involved in conservation action in their communities.
Dolma’s story was told to Ajay Bijoor, NCF High Altitude Program Coordinator, who was part of our original SLE pilot program (known as Shen in India). We asked Ajay to share the history of SLE and how Dolma got involved.
“When we first started engaging formally with women, we were guided by research that showed women had a more negative attitude towards wildlife than men. We also realized that our conservation efforts had left women out (by default, not by design) because mostly men participated in our community meetings. Women were not a significant part of our conversations about conservation, given the cultural context. SLE was an attempt to bridge this gap. From the beginning, Dolma (and a few others) have played an active role in SLE.
When the women started knitting socks, we didn’t know much about the market, the enterprise or how they would sell. Several women took part in our original initiative, including Dolma. She was part of a committee of three women from the village of Kibber overseeing these efforts on behalf of the women. These women chose her thanks to her ability to play a leadership role. By the end of the first year, we were able to pay them a modest amount for their products. Although, we were afraid this amount might be too small to keep them interested.
But after speaking with several women, we realized this was about more than the money. It was something more valuable than that, which was hard to measure. Maybe in the process of setting up this enterprise, we had earned some sort of social capital. Dolma continues to engage with us through SLE and still earns a modest amount (relative to what her family earns through agriculture). But the proactive engagement has been extremely useful in ensuring she did not respond negatively when she lost livestock to snow leopards. And while she might have been angered or upset by the loss, she is happy to work towards preventing such events in the future.
Chhering Chodon (pictured above) is another outspoken SLE leader. Chodon hails from one of the less affluent families in the village. Her husband is a mason and they own a small patch of agricultural land. While SLE has not increased their income substantially, it has helped Chodon in many other ways. For example, when we first started the SLE pilot, we wanted to go and explore the market for raw materials in other parts of the state. We requested the women appoint a representative to accompany us. Chodon agreed readily. We soon realized this was one of the first times she had traveled out of Spiti. Later, we brought a team of 14 women, including Chodon and Dolma, for SLE training in Mysore (South India, c. 3000 km from Spiti). For many of the women, this was their first time traveling so far from home. Some of them also saw and traveled on a train for the first time in their lives! This was a trip of many firsts, which the women cherish even now.
SLE offers many more opportunities than just an additional source of livelihood. It has encouraged women into the conservation dialogue and enhanced their agency in conservation and environmental action. It is also fostering coexistence between people and snow leopards. The fact that we had proactively engaged with these women has helped ensure their support when it mattered most. This support for snow leopard conservation is vital to ensuring this magnificent species roams the mountains of high Asia for generations to come.”
Your Snow Leopard Enterprises handicraft purchases directly benefit local communities and snow leopards. Thank you for your support.