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Empower her

Thursday, October 11, 2018

It is vital to encourage skilling of girls, says Santanu Mishra, on the International Day of the Girl Child

The work on empowering women has been a continuous process undertaken by the government and civil society. Education was the first critical element that was touched upon through ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ and the newer ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. As we realised that empowerment requires much more effort on multiple fronts we now have programs on health and financial inclusion. A critical aspect that needs to be taken into account is the aspect of skill development. Women have consistently been facing challenges due to lack of agency and mobility constraints. When Indian Human Development Survey (2012), surveyed 34,000 women, about 80% of them said that they needed permission from a family member in order to visit a health centre.

Skill development of a girl childwould not only empower her to make her own decisions, but expose her to a large number of rights-based narratives and information critical to her well being. Employability and soft skills are critical elements that are lacking amongst those leaving schools, graduates and those already employed. Organisations tend to spend extremely high  resources in training their staff, not in job-specific areas but in general and basic skills.

Most research that has been done on skills has been somehow restricted to the formal economy. With a significant number of the world’s youth inhabiting developing regions, they not only face many hurdles in terms of education and health, but are bound to be inducted into irregular and informal employment. Enterprise Surveys conducted in a mix of sectors across Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia have pointed to a significant convergence between the skills considered important in developed and developing regions, This is in addition to basic and technical skills. These primarily turned out to be openness to learning, ability to communicate, good work habits, capacity for teamwork, personal integrity, leadership, entrepreneurship and the capacity for analytical and critical thinking. Instead of working on these issues we have been working with adolescent girls, training them in activities such as sewing, small scale production, marketing food and dairy products, production of handicraft and art. Civil society has also worked extensively on these issues, STeP (Smile Twin e-learning program), a national level programme of Smile Foundation, trains urban underprivileged youth in most segments to increase employability, particularly aiming at the expanding employability in retail, hospitality and BPO sectors. It has worked extensively with girl children, in fact 52% of the beneficiaries were girls.

One might want to take a look at the Incheon Declaration which has committed to a model of education which is essentially non-discriminatory in nature.  The recognition that gender equality and women’s empowerment is absolutely necessary for development, has been a critical hindrance to move ahead on this process. In the UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report (2015) it was found that only 69% of countries were to achieve gender parity in access to education at the primary school level by 2015, in the secondary school level it stood at 48%. The Skill India initiative which has started looking at enhancing employability and creating jobs, has implemented skill development programmes in some 22 ministries and departments of the central government. The Draft New Education Policy (2016) proposes to integrate skill development with curricula of 25% of schools and higher education institutes. What one needs to progress from there is getting employment opportunities for them to gain financial independence.

According to the Economic Survey of India 2017-18 the female labour force participation rate in India has fallen from 36% in 2005-2006 to 24% in 2015-16. Female workers are in large part low-skilled informal workers. who are engaged in low-productivity, low paying work.

Questions with regard to the skills for employment in addition to the basic skills are critical for women to gain financial independence. Though we do indeed impart skills on the basis of various issues what we look forward to are elements that will make them more aware of their selves and their surroundings as well.

Santanu Mishra is Co-Founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation

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