It’s around 10 am. The sun is strong, streams of it are pouring into the dark, narrow lanes of the Indira Camp Colony in Delhi’s Vikaspuri area. Indu has finished her household chores and is sitting outside her shanty hemming a piece of cloth.
Indu Devi (35), a migrant from Bihar, works as a house helper in one of the apartments opposite the colony. “This is madam’s blouse. I also take care of all her petty tailoring work like hemming, piping or for that matter stitching a saree fall,” she says. Indu learned some of the stitching skills at the Kovadi centre, an NGO in Vikaspuri accredited to run the government’s flagship program Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY) launched in 2015. The scheme envisions to impart industry-relevant skill training to 10 million youth by 2020, largely through private accredited “training partners”. The Centre meets the entire fee expenses.
Indu got to know about the stitching course through a notice put up by members of Kovadi. She is unlettered and unskilled. The hope was that she and her husband would be able to provide better for their five children if Indu was employed in more productive work with better income.
Four courses, all three-months each, are taught at the Kovadi centre. They are mobile repair, CCTV installation, beautician techniques and stitching. At the end of the course, applicants get a certificate and guaranteed placement. Indu did not avail her placement and left her course in a month to go back to her job as a domestic servant. “It was a 4-5 hour commitment every day. I just could not manage it. I had no income. It was getting very tough,” Indu says. The PMKVY plans for some of this — Rs 500 is supposed to be deposited into the accounts of the students to take care of their daily traveling expenses. But Kovadi says no money had come to them yet.
There is no official data or status check to conclude that women are dropping out or hesitant to join a basic skills program but the signs are everywhere. “Under PMKVY scheme, to pass a training course, one must pass a theoretical exam either in English or Hindi in order to receive a certificate and placement of job. Women of age group between 25-35 who come to us are generally unlettered and this makes it difficult for them to complete the courses if at all they join,” said Ruchi Jain, the programme co-ordinator at the Kovadi centre.
A 2016 Delhi Commission of Women and Child report estimates that the 66 per cent of girls between Classes V and XII in government schools drop out. About 15 per cent of the girls who pass class XII make it to college. The rest remain confined to homes without entering the formal workforce. A skill development scheme which is envisioned to be a critical link between basic education and more opportunity thus ends up being a non-starter for many girls.
“Sometimes even the application process is inaccessible to women as they don’t have an Aadhaar card. With many such restrictions they avoid investing time in this as they are already burdened with managing the household and domestic household work they do outside,” Jain adds.
Skill India: Beauty and wellness for women, electronics and hardware for men
The PMKVY guideline lists 219 courses across 34 sectors. NGOs run the courses according to the infrastructure, demand and supply. The three most common courses across parts of Delhi are in the fields of Beauty and wellness, garment and jewellery, handicrafts for women and electronics and hardware for men.
The Kovadi centre is a single floor building, located in close proximity to the three Indira colony camps. A huge board with the PMKVY signage makes it unmissable. The centre has the looks of a well-equipped training centre. It was half past noon when placements were on for the mobile repair course. A class of 12 boys and one girl were awaiting their turn. In another room stitching classes were taking place. The beauty clinic was closed for theoretical classes.
Preeti, a 16-year-old school dropout joined the mobile repair course at Kovadi, generally considered a course for men. Her parents were reluctant to send her to a classroom where boys are a majority. “My decision has become an everyday fight with the family, no one is supportive of my choice. Sometimes the classes are in the evening since my classmates are boys and have other jobs. That becomes an additional point of contention,” Preeti adds.
Skilling boys/men is first priority for families
At Kovadi, even though all courses are open to men and women, courses like mobile repair are assumed to be for men. The team from Kovadi goes to the Indira camp colony and slums every three months to encourage people to join. “Even after counseling equally irrespective of the gender, families tend to push the male members of the family first. The enrollment of boys is easier compared to girls and women,” says Jain.
Jyoti, an 18-year-old from the same slum, is keen on learning some of the skills being taught at the center. With an ill mother, a father working outside and brothers going for mobile repair classes at Kovadi, Jyoti is last priority. “I was 12 when I stopped schooling. With my ailing mother and six little siblings, I couldn’t manage both school and the household work, so my father asked me to stay back home,” says Jyoti. She has since then taken care of the house.
The Household Responsibility Syndrome
Household responsibilities are one of the main reasons why women from areas like the Indira camp are either not coming forward to be trained, or are being left out by their families since male members get the first chance. What’s equally true is that women are leaving training mid-way or choose not to utilise their skill sets. The placement time is the most crucial part of the course and Jain points out the roadblocks here, “Many girls reject placements for the reason that their parents only allowed to study. Many women opt for employment opportunities within a mile distance.”
Usha migrated from Faizabad 30 years ago and worked as a housemaid until she joined a tailoring course under PMKVY scheme. After completing her course, she was offered a job at a cloth factory in Mayapuri, Delhi for a monthly salary of Rs 5000. But Usha didn’t take up the new job.“I did learn the skill in a hope to do a better job, but if I work all day long, who will look after my six children. This area isn’t safe for children to be left alone,” Usha says.
Post training, women avoid taking jobs at distant places due to several factors. This shrinks their employability opportunities. While some have shown interest to start their own entrepreneurial set-ups, financial literacy and independence remain a big challenge. At the Indira camp colony, most women have a zero-balance account opened with the help of PMKVY. Most of them are not operational. Ester Das, a self-help-group provider in the area says how women are majorly influenced by their husbands.
“They may take loans to help their husbands set up business when they are out of work or sometimes to repay the loans of their husbands,” says Das, but chances of their participation in micro-credit schemes for their own ventures is slim.
Data from early 2017 available for the PMKVY scheme run by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship reveals that that out of a total 30.67 lakh candidates (trained or undergoing training) across the country, less than a tenth — 2.9 lakh candidates — had received placement offers. While the efficacy of PMKVY as an answer to unemployment is still being debated, similar schemes launched in the past have folded up. Delhi’s Gender resource centres started by Congress-led govt were all shut down by 2017 by the Kejriwal government due to lack of funds. The Ministry of Women and Child Development invited applications under a scheme “Support to training and empowerment program for women” (STEP) in 2016, but no action has taken place yet.
Skill development training for women is often aimed at helping women empower themselves with better work opportunities. There is a slow and grudging recognition, at least among workers on the ground that many of these schemes and strategies, are in conflict with prevailing social norms and ground realities, and thus bypassing women and girls.
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