When one thinks of security guards, the image that pops up is often that of a big burly man in a uniform, wielding a baton. A woman essaying the role would hardly cross one's mind. Bringing an end to this stereotype is 33-year-old Shravani Pawar from Karnataka.
Through her Hubli-based startup Safe Hands 24x7, Pawar and her team are training women, mostly from socially and economically weaker sections of society, to become security guards.
"I wanted to bring women into a male-dominated profession. I found security to be the best field. Everyone says that women should be protected, but she can also provide security to others," Shravani Pawar tells The Logical Indian.
A native of Dharwad, Pawar completed her graduation in Social Work from Karnataka University and completed her Fellowship training on Social Entrepreneurship from Deshpande Center for Social entrepreneurship, Hubli.
A keen interest in working towards women empowerment is what led to her venture. Most of her staffs are single mothers and divorcees and those that have basic or no education. While the women work during the day shift(till 8 pm), they have employed men to work during the night shift. They also provide housekeeping services for commercial institutions.
Ex-servicemen of the army train the employees as per the Private Security Agencies Regulation Act, 2005(PSARA) that prescribes the training for security guards. The employees are also provided with physical and mental training and taught in visitor -book maintenance, material checking, etc.
They have a select clientele comprising of hospitals, educational institutions, ladies hostels, and a few commercial complexes.
"We focus on clients within the city so that it is convenient for our employees to travel. One of our main objectives is to create employment opportunities for local people so that they can stay with their family and work," says Pawar.
"We choose the places in such a way that the women themselves feel safe and comfortable and they can also provide the same feeling to the people around," she adds.
Today, they operate all over Karnataka and a few places in Chennai and Goa.
The Inception Of Safe Hands 24x7
After completing her bachelors in 2007, Pawar worked for six months with an NGO that was working in the field of rural developments. During this period, she realised the plight of uneducated/undereducated women in the unorganised sector, which inspired her to work towards women empowerment.
Afterwards, she joined a social entrepreneurship training program with Deshpande Foundation, where her ideas came to fruition. During the training period, Pawar, along with two others, brainstormed on various business plans for empowering women, that ranged from setting up a co-operative bank to a handicraft unit.
"We wanted to do something very different, something that was the need of the hour. We also wanted to fill the gender gap," recalls Pawar.
It was this persistence that led to the trio deciding to pursue the idea of employing women as security guards. They then carried out market research and surveys to understand how people would take to the idea of women as security guards. Overcoming many hurdles along the way, Safe Hands 24x7 came into being in 2009, when Pawar was just 23 years old.
In order to hire women into their brand new startup, Pawar and team visited several SHGs(Self Help Groups). However, convincing the women to take up a man's job was no easy task. Many were sceptical by the one question that holds most women back - "What would my family think?"
"While a few were ready to join, others were hesitant. They said - 'This is a man's job. If my family finds out that I am working as a security guard, they will not accept it.' So, it was not easily welcomed," recalls Pawar.
Uniform was yet another concern as many women were uncomfortable with wearing pants. To add to this, many of the families were not okay with seeing them working in men's clothes. Furthermore, most of the families could not accept that a woman could do a security job.
"Some even thought that security was a menial job that the women in their household shouldn't be allowed to do," says Pawar.
It took Pawar a while to help the women to shed their inhibitions and convince them to take on a path of social and economic independence.
"We explained to them how it is different from the other jobs and the benefits they would receive from working in an organised sector. Even if they work as a housemaid at a household for 10-20 years, they won't get any benefits," she says.
Convincing the clients to hire women as security guards was yet another hurdle. Few of them outright said that they would hire male security guards, but not female; while others were ready to take a chance.
"Initially, most of the responses were negative. But we requested the clients to try for a month's time and then to continue if they were satisfied," says Pawar.
As more and more people got convinced, she soon had nine people on board - 6 women and 3 men. Today, Safe Hands 24x7 is 800 people strong, of which, 60 per cent are women.
Trouble Back Home
For Pawar, the challenges did not end there. Soon, her friends had to leave midway and she was on her own. Convincing her own parents also posed a major challenge.
"For a year, I did not tell my parents about my venture. I told them that I was working for an NGO. But when my partner left, I had to shift to Hubli. It was then that I told my parents and they discouraged me. They asked me to come back home and either study or get married," she recalls.
However, by then Pawar had employed 100 people and she did not want to give it up. "When I told my family this, they told me to not return home. For seven months, they did not talk to me," she adds.
Later on, realising her love for the work, her parents accepted her and her venture.
Today, Pawar is an inspiration to every woman who wishes to go beyond her comfort zones and create a space for herself in a male-dominated profession. Breaking barriers and stereotypes, Pawar is now planning to expand her venture to other states.Also Read: This 'Padman Of Jharkhand' Quit His Job To End The Stigma Around Menstruation