14 August 2020 01:57 AM

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GIRIJA SHIVAKUMAR | 23 NOVEMBER, 2014

A Dream To Drive the Metro

The struggle for equality, continues


According to the World Development Report, women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food, but earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income and own less than one per cent of the world’s property.

Although women make up half of the world population, their participation in various activities is not the same as men’s even today. Without the participation of women in the development process, society as a whole cannot be said to develop sufficiently. Nevertheless, due to gender discrimination, women tend to be granted an inferior status in nearly every aspect of life.

One of the biggest needs of young people in developing countries is to find a way to earn a steady, decent income. This need is particularly acute for marginalized girls and young women who face countless barriers to and in the labor market and business community than their male counterparts.

There are many reasons that girls and boys are set on separate life paths in terms of expectations of their future both educational attainment and professional prospects. While adolescence for boys generally brings greater freedom, girls face restrictions on their mobility and autonomy, and an increased risk of violence.

EMpower, the Emerging Markets Foundation, a nonprofit organization that makes grants to local organizations working to improve the lives of marginalized youth in developing countries sought to learn about other possibilities for young women to find jobs or start business in areas that are not usual for females in their settings. In 2010, EMpower carried out research focusing primarily on the “informal sector” solutions, usually small businesses with one or several employees.

“Most women are engaged in the informal sector. From a very young age girls face deprivations at all stages in their lives. The gender sorting starts early as a result the gender inequality persists. Women are even invisible in the informal sector. We are trying to change the paradigm to expose women to different programs and courses with the hope to breakdown gender stereotypes,” said Cynthia Steele, Executive Vice President, EMpower.

The research revealed several surprises that challenge the notions of what “non-traditional” work means for young women. The research also found examples of work in which young women felt proud to participate, that challenged notions of gender lines and tested boundaries in other ways.

Additionally, the term “non-traditional work” does not capture the complexity of adolescent girls’ and young women’s work. The research set out to explore the potential to expand “non-traditional” work for females engaging in emerging market countries. Further, the concept of “non-traditional” work is nuanced and context specific. Respondent emphasized that what might be considered “traditional” varies by class, caste and generations. For instance, Navasarajan, a community based nongovernmental organization in Gujarat dedicated to overcoming caste-based discriminations, provides support for Dalit women to move within the “traditional” beauty industry, which is revolutionary given that Dalit’s historically are not allowed to touch other castes.

“In order to effectively empower adolescent girls, many stakeholders must be mobilized. Getting fundamentals in place can be challenge including selecting the girls, speaking with parents and even getting UID and BLP cards is often tough. Further, it is integral to link trained girls to employees and markets places,” explains Nisha Dhawan, Program Officer, EMpower India.

Ms. Dhawan also reiterated the cultural challenges specific to India including resistance from parents and the lack of safety in public places. Given the opportunity professional interests and endeavors are extremely varied for young women in India. Sarika Sawant (21) works at Lucas TV, an engineering firm in the automobile industry looking specifically into quality control. Ms. Sawant uses the skills she learned during her course at Lend a Hand India, an organization that works at the intersection of education and livelihood. She has a diploma in telecommunications, and has been working in an engineering firm for over six months. “I am self-sufficient and economically empowered. In fact, I even pay for my brother’s college education,” she says.

Seeking to find meaningful employment is Azad Foundation that is driven by the vision of a world where all women (in particular women from underprivileged contexts) enjoy full citizenship, earn with dignity and generate wealth and value for all. At Azad Foundation, women undergo a half-year training course, which cover topics such as self-defense, women's rights, sexuality and reproductive rights, effective communication, grooming and most importantly, driving—their future vocation. The organization's founders have set up Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd, a company that provides employment to these women and safe chauffeur and car hire services to other women.

“People stare, pass comments and even try to purposely edge my car out,” says Lalitha (21), a commercial driver at Sakha Consulting wings. However, she is quick to clarify, “I am not scared at all especially since I carry pepper spray, know self-defense and even carry an iron stick for protection”.

Lalitha’s dream is to drive the metro in New Delhi next.

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