Parvati Amma comes from Pulkattai village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project (TNEPRP) has conducted a unique experiment. In an effort to raise the very low levels of women’s participation in India’s labor force, it is helping rural women break into jobs that are traditionally held by men, where they could increase their earnings significantly.
In this part of Madurai district, most of the men folk are successful masons. The women worked as helpers, merely passing tools to the men as they laid brick over brick to build houses and office blocks. Being unskilled, the women earned half the men’s wages.
Even though Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanized states in India with high literacy rates, new buildings are proceeding apace amidst the state’s booming construction industry, attracting over a million migrant workers - more than a tenth of whom work as unskilled labor. There is, however, a paucity of trained masons.
The challenge for the women was to take on age-old social and cultural barriers and enter into this exclusive male preserve. Masonry has never been seen as a woman’s job in India, much less in this conservative rural area. For a start, the women wear sarees that constrain them from climbing onto scaffolding to build the higher storeys. Masons are also required to travel long distances for work, and staying away from their families is not something the women could easily do. Apart from mobility constraints and worksites that are not women-friendly; domestic responsibilities, burden of child and elderly care, and a conservative societal outlook, are all challenges.
Nonetheless, the women of Madurai’s Pulkattai village were not to be daunted. They saw this as an opportunity to prove their worth and double their wages in the bargain.
Supported by a visionary panchayat president and an expert mason from the village who had confidence in the women’s capability - Parvati Amma and 25 other women joined the masonry training offered by the project.
Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality. It also lays the basis for sustained growth. Better schooling investments raise national income growth rates. In nearly all countries, though to varying degrees, educational progress has lagged for groups that are disadvantaged due to low income, gender, disability or ethnic and/or linguistic affiliation. However, there is an on-going education revolution occurring.
Dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, technology disruption could be a key growth driver for economies over the coming years. But for women, advances in technology also pose a threat, as many of their jobs could be displaced. A perfect storm of technological trends, from mobile internet and cloud technology to ‘big data’ and the ‘internet of things’, means that, as new work trends evolve, existing gender inequalities could worsen further.
In the last decade, policy attention to better develop the knowledge and skills of the workforce has increased for several reasons. First, global youth unemployment rates, three times higher than the unemployment rate for those over 25 years old, have raised concerns about social stability as well as sustained and long-term economic growth. Second, many who argue that youth unemployment is partially caused by a mismatch between graduates’ skills and the skills that employers need, also believe that revitalizing vocational education and training can help address the problem. Third, a skilled workforce that can easily adapt to technological change is likely a fundamental component for countries to remain competitive in the global economy.
This week thousands of policy-makers, experts, NGOs and urban-minded citizens of all stripes are convening in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the New Urban Agenda at Habitat III – a significant global convening that occurs every 20 years. And, in a couple weeks, amid the costumes and candy, ghosts and goblins of Halloween, the world will mark UN World Cities Day on October 31st. For good reason, youth are part of the conversation. In today’s global landscape, two demographic patterns should stand out: rapid urbanization and large youth populations. These patterns are especially robust across developing nations. Already the worlds’ cities host half of its citizens, and Asia and Africa are expected to account for 90% of urban growth. While growing, cities have also become younger – many of the world’s nearly four billion people under the age of 30 live in urban areas, and according to UN-HABITAT, it is estimated that 60% of urban populations will be under the age of 18 by 2030.
There is strong evidence that suggests that the South African tourism industry can help create a large number of secure, inclusive jobs. Despite the global financial crisis and a sector which competes on a global level, it created 48,000 jobs since 2008. Furthermore, many of these jobs are low-skilled, located in towns where there is not much other economic activity and have a higher-than-average representation of women and the youth. In addition, there are also opportunities for employees to increase their skills and their wages, so they do not remain in a low-wage, low productivity wage cycle permanently.
In the last few decades, we have seen an increase in the number of countries investing in social protection programs. These programs help individuals and families especially the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks, invest in the health and education of their children, supporting young people by developing their skills and finding jobs, and protecting the aging population.
Happy UN Day for South –South Cooperation!
Investment in skills is vital to economic growth and competitiveness and poverty reduction. I believe that there is no better way to do that than to educate young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas to help grow African economies, create jobs, and support research.