With 1.2 billion people and the world’s fourth-largest economy, India is one of the world’s most powerful examples of growth and development in recent times. However, progress has not been shared equally, with more than 400 million of India’s people – one third of the world’s poor – still living in poverty.
Girls and women are among the most economically vulnerable, especially in poor rural and urban areas. Gender discrimination in wage rates and differences in skills, training and education, as well as conditions of work, all hinder their ability to find decent work.
Creating decent job opportunities for young people, particularly young women and disadvantaged youth, is essential to enable them to not only realise their own dreams but to contribute to a more gender equal and fair society.
Jobs are needed for girls like Manisha, who was given a chance to make her dream come true. “As a young girl I dreamed for years about a life with a job. For young girls in this country, this often stays a dream. Girls drop out of school, are forced into arranged marriages, and have children early,” she says.
Challenging gender stereotypes
It wasn’t easy for Manisha, who had to challenge gender stereotypes at every turn – even within her own family.
“In the beginning, my father didn’t want me to look for a job. He is conservative,” she explains.
Her mother, Asha, adds, “My husband didn’t want Manisha to work. I explained to him that girls should get an education. They must be independent.”
“My mother and I persuaded him,” she says. “Now my family is very happy, my father is very proud.”
Manisha now works in a large department store. She is just one of the girls to benefit from Plan’s Saksham project, which provides job orientated vocational training for young people aged 18 to 29 from poor and disadvantaged communities in Delhi.
Saksham is challenging traditional gender stereotypes and discrimination, by sharing information with parents, communities, and employers about gender equality, equal opportunity, and economic empowerment of young girls.
This environment is designed to encourage young girls to take up training and employment opportunities to build a trained female workforce, and local businesses have engaged with the project to promote women-friendly work environments.
For Manisha, it means an end to traditional attitudes which confine women to the home after marriage. “I think that working is very good for young women. I’d like for all girls to continue working after their marriage,” she says.
Skills for every walk of life
With India suffering a skills mismatch, the project seeks to build innovative partnerships with civil society organisations, government, and corporate groups, and equip youth with skills – such as computer literacy and English language – which enhance their employability.
“What we see in general is that girls and women need an extra nudge. They need a little bit extra support to speak up when it comes to getting a job or building their own business,” says Manon Van Beek, Country Managing Director at Saksham partner Accenture.
“We help local girls get the skills they need to succeed. So the skills to either find a job or to set up a business.”
Ram Tiwari, HR manager at Café Coffee Day, one of the companies involved in the Saksham project, agrees. “They are very motivated,” he says. “The candidates from Saksham are very high quality. I don’t need to invest more in them, they can start immediately.”
“When I found a job after the course, it transformed my life enormously,” says Manisha. “Not only me – my whole family is doing a lot better now. We have moved into a house with two rooms because of my salary.”
Being part of the Saksham project is about much more than just having a job. It’s about gaining confidence, independence and the ability to be in control of your own life.
“We see opportunities for us that we take immediately. They call it girl power, and I’m understanding it more and more,” beams Manisha.
Video: Meet the Saksham students