Author: Ranjani K Murthy, November 23 2016 - Economic empowerment of women can be seen as a process of strengthening control of individual women over their labour, resources, information technology, and intra household decision making; collective bargaining of women with financial institutions, markets, local government  and changes in deep rooted attitudes and norms on women’s role in the economy. Many donors, governments and corporate foundations see vocational training of young women as contributing towards marginalized women’s empowerment. Is this assumption valid?

An assessment of vocational training component of one of NGO in South India points to mixed evidence of impact of vocational training on women’s economic empowerment.  On the positive side, vocational training programmes appear to ‘self-target’ poor as vocational training is considered less prestigious than finishing higher education (though unemployment rate is high amongst ‘educated’).  Around 50% of trainees were women, which again is impressive.  Ninety percent of women trained by this NGO in India were from marginalized communities, including religious minorities.  Women participants were allowed to bring young children to training in a few training centers which were run by partner NGOs, but not all (run by private companies).    Ninety percent of women alumni trainees mentioned that they continued with the vocation even after 1-3 years.   

There were a few innovations pertaining to gender and vocational training. In one state there was a tie up with a service provider from a Muslim community to provide Desktop Publishing, Tally and hardware training. This tie up led to several Muslim girls coming for the training Programme. Parents had trust in a married male from the same community providing services, and would contact him if there were delays. The girls could do ‘namaz’ (prayers) if they wanted in the location of training.  An institute in another state combined their training on nursing for women with a strong personality development, leadership and tailor made entrepreneurship development Programme.  The norm was to combine entrepreneurship training across a few vocations. The nurses stood out in their confidence, and several went on to complete a Diploma Course in Nursing, after which they earned well. See Box 1

Some of the challenges towards economic empowerment of women who were trained included:

Gender stereotypes persist in the choice of vocational training area (e.g. tailoring for women).  Whether this stereotyping is due to gender bias on the part of providers or internalized norms is a matter of debate.  The vocations of tailoring, beautician and nursing are seen as domains of women, while hardware, driving and mobile repair are seen as domains of men. Tally and Desktop Publishing are popular amongst both men and women. 

The different vocations are valued differently by society.  With a few exceptions (see Box 1) tailoring, beautician and nursing did not fetch as much income as driving, or hardware. The average income of men who had passed out of vocational training was Rs 9000 and of women was Rs 7000 a month.  Men are in a position to work longer hours than women as they do not have care responsibilities 

Amongst those who are working after training, 29% are entrepreneurs, 33% are employed by others and 38% work from home. However, entrepreneurship is higher amongst male youth at 50% and the tendency to work from home is higher amongst women at 50%. 

The constraints to women’s entrepreneurship after completing vocational training include presence of few role models, restrictions on their mobility, lesser ability to mobilize credit, lack of child care facilities and opposition from martial family to work outside after marriage etc . [Even on the part of a few men trained under the programme. ]

Looking into the future, the following measures may be required if vocational training is to lead to women’s empowerment:  

Pre-training counseling to women vocational trainees and their family members on potential income from different vocations, and profiles of women who have broken stereotypes 

Include inputs for women and men trainees on gender and development, on negotiating with possible groom on continuing with work after marriage (for only women), pros and cons of home based work, entrepreneurship and employment – and different models of doing the same

Provide child care services in/near all training centres and in localities where women vocational trainees are working

Provide Spoken English training for women where needed. 

Post training support like creation of on line list of service providers (who have passed out from vocational training) and services so that clients can access information. 

Link vocational training with banks and markets.  Lobby for few shops to be allocated to women trainees in government run markets    

Form self-help groups of women in the same vocation for savings and loan, bulk purchase of raw materials, negotiation with markets, etc. 

Review Skill Development Policy of government from a gender and equity lens

To sum up, vocational training of women can contribute to women’s economic empowerment only if the above conditions are met and they become entrepreneurs not just home based service providers.  

As with all of the blogs posted on our website, the content above does not imply the endorsement of The CI or its Partners and is from the perspective of the writer alone. We do not check facts and strive to retain the writer's voice, as is detailed in our Editorial Policy.