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The Sawangboran Project – Womens Agency
What the discourse of development calls agency is one of the main goals of Sawang Boran – members can achieve an ability to make their choices and manage their lives more freely and effectively. All members develop the agency of innovators and experts (in colours, technique, design) and better social/gender agency through the respect and money earned. All members have the agency to not do factory or farm labour work, and to live what is for them a better life, in their own surroundings. Some develop leadership and intellectual agency (taking responsibility for a collective task or project, offering ideas and advice).
While it will take time for members to be able to deal directly with the outside world – the final sustainability goal is to make the foreign director redundant – small steps are taken every time members have exposure to that outside world, and overcome their sense of ‘I can’t talk, I’m only a villager’. They discover that the stuff of Sawang Boran is so well known to them that they actually can talk persuasively to outsiders, including at fairs where they have a direct contact with customers.
If eventually the Thai market picks up the organic and fair trade philosophy, these weavers will largely be able to deal with that market themselves, once the various managerial techniques and requirements are passed on to them. However for now, the market of Sawang Boran is mostly foreign – and one key agency requirement voiced by several younger weavers is for them to be taught English. The fact that this is their own, frequently expressed desire is in itself a good indicator of agency.