“Should only men be allowed to be builders, heavy machinery drivers, or electricians? No—I want to be able to do these jobs too.” The young woman expressing this opinion is Edelène. She is 17 years old and dropped out of school in the third grade because her family could no longer afford to pay her school fees.
With her mother’s assistance, she is raising her one-year old son. We met her during our visit to the APROSIFA Carrefour-Feuille association in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince. Surrounded by roughly ten other young women from her neighborhood, Edelène shares her hopes for the future.
All the girls have now been out of school for at least two years and they all want to learn a trade; for their sake and that of their families. Edelène, Berdine, Immaculée, and Régine are all aged between 17 and 20, and from tomorrow will be trained in programs that are not normally open or accessible to women.
“With this job I can become a different kind of woman; an independent woman,” Esthénie tells us.
“This will enable me to prove to my family and friends that I am capable of doing much more than the fate I faced because I dropped out of school so early,” added Wadmilove. A little more than two years after the deadly January 12, 2010 earthquake, the sectors linked directly, and indirectly, to the country’s reconstruction offer the greatest number of employment prospects.
As is the case with other key growth sectors in the country, such as tourism or the clothing industry, the need for qualified labor will help change attitudes to the participation of women within these sectors, which have traditionally been associated with male employees. And we are not the only ones who are convinced of this.
Employers themselves want to give priority to hiring to young women as, in addition to the benefits of workplace diversity, they realize that women are more serious and committed to their work.
But what are the barriers barring young women from joining the labor force? Perhaps adolescence, which is a complicated period for them. While for boys, adolescence is synonymous with greater mobility and independence, the situation is different for young women.
This period, during which they have to make important decisions, is often accompanied by greater restrictions and curtailed freedom.
During this critical phase of their lives, adolescents such as Edelène or Berdine should be given the tools they need to gain their financial independence—high-quality training in keeping with the needs of the labor force and life skills that allow them to better adapt to the working world. Armed with such tools, they will then have a keener awareness of their rights and be more hopeful about their future.
The young woman we met at Carrefour-Feuille are eligible for the recently announced Adolescent Girls Initiative in Haiti. One thousand young Haitians will therefore receive training in non-traditional professions.
The launch of this program is part of a global public-private initiative to promote the economic independence of 12,000 young girls and women from eight countries stretching from Nepal to Liberia and including South Sudan and Rwanda. Indeed, more than one-third (34%) of young women in developing countries are unemployed and have dropped out of school.
To hear them articulate their dreams of a better life takes us back to the image of thousands of tents we saw since our arrival in Port-au-Prince. Carrefour-Feuille was not hit very hard by the earthquake which caused 250,000 deaths.However, that does not mean that these young women are not especially vulnerable to such risks as poverty, insecurity, having children while they are children, unwanted pregnancies, dropping out of school, and the lack of social networks.
Therefore, in addition to their technical training, the young women selected for the Initiative will also receive what are known as soft skills training. Included in this training is behavioral training, such as how to conduct oneself in the workplace and networking—skills that are lacking or are not taught in schools or the environments from which these young women come. Edelène and her friends hope to help rebuild their country in keeping with their potential.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with them, to make this hope a reality, and learn lessons from this pilot project that will help pave the way for the next generation of young women in Haiti.