Why We Need To Engender Skill Development to Fix Women’s Employment Landscape

Skill Development, Labour Report Underestimated Female, Female Labour
India’s labour market has been deeply gender-skewed for some time. A largely gender-blind urbanisation together with deeply held socio-cultural norms have conspired to keep women out of the labour market. Going by the current trends it will perhaps be decades before we see an equitable participation of women in the workforce of our country. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 talks of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. A crucial strategy to catalyse this lies in skill-based education.

Even before the pandemic hit, only 22.3 percent of Indian women compared to 79.6 percent of men participated in the labour market, translating to a gender gap of 72 percent.

According to the World Bank statistics, the female labour force participation was 20 percent in 2020 – down from 22 percent in 2019. Following the pandemic, the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation data revealed a record dip in women’s employment registering a female labour force participation of an abysmal 15.5 percent during April to June quarter of 2020. Our female labour force participation is the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region, and among one of the lowest globally. It is, therefore, no surprise that gender mainstreaming is still a pressing matter for India and the world, even in the 21st century.

Gender Mainstreaming was introduced as a concept at the Nairobi World Conference on Women in 1985. After gaining traction, in 1998, the Council of Europe gave it a formal definition – “The (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and all stages, by the actors normally involved in policymaking”.

The main challenges that women face include gender biases in occupational choices, barriers to education and training – especially in rural and informal economies – sociocultural and economic constraints, and low representation of women in vocational jobs. In the Indian employability and employment landscape, the hindrances to overcome are many. For instance, the India Skills Report 2021 found that while 41% of women are considered employable (compared to 38.9% of men), the ratio of workers is 36% women to 64% men. Further, women who manage to enter the workforce are paid 34% less than similarly qualified men, according to Oxfam India’s report titled ‘Mind the Gap: The State of Employment in India’. Further, the pandemic has had a much worse impact on women than men, as they are the first to be laid off and the last to be re-hired.

Women’s access to skill development and participation in the labour force is mired in socioeconomic structural barriers and complexities. The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector needs to incorporate a gendered focus in all its national skill development policies, strategies, and implementation programmes.

It is widely acknowledged that skill trainers have a long-lasting influence over their students but continue to use gender-insensitive material and resources in their lessons. This propagates implicit and subliminal gender biases that take years to unlearn. The pedagogy of skill development, thus, needs rethinking. Women are not merely a vulnerable group but half the population of the country.

We need a programme for capacity-building of skill trainers to raise awareness of prevailing gender biases and facilitate greater participation of women in skilling and in the workforce. Sensitising master trainers on the impediments that women face would allow them to arrest the issues at the training stage, having a cascading impact on creating a more equitable future workforce, resulting in better outcomes for the entire economy and society.

women quota on corporate boards, male-focused networking, Lower Employment Rate Of Indian Urban Women

Image Credit: Economic Times

The training must include the need for gender responsiveness in the skills value chain and creating gender-neutral environments. Additional efforts are needed to focus on and provide primary relief to sectors that offer more women-centric job roles – such as Apparel, Healthcare, BFSI, Beauty & Wellness, and Tourism & Hospitality. The skill development ecosystem in India is a collaborative one. All endeavours must bring together the various stakeholders – Sector Skills Council, Industry bodies, gender specialists, and other TVET organisations.

In this light, Learnet Skills, UN Women, and NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation) have taken the first step to design and implement a course on Gender Mainstreaming for Master Trainers.

Today, digital skills are fast becoming the currency of future work. In this new age world, women must not get left behind. It would be wise to design self-paced or instructor-led courses online, thereby reaching a wider audience and overcoming barriers presented by the pandemic. We envisage that they will go on to impart gender sensitisation to their students thereby spreading knowledge exponentially and across demographics. A course like this must achieve massive scale, reaching trainers across sectors and job roles to increase the enrolment of women even in unconventional job profiles.

The spirit of gender mainstreaming is to purposefully and consciously account for women and all genders at each step in policy planning and implementation. It is not a mere mention of gender sensitivities or a diversity declaration but a mindful approach of inclusiveness for the benefit of all.

Suggested Reading:

India’s Low Women’s labour Force Participation – Has COVID-19 Changed Things?

In alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 5, the employability and employment ecosystems must enable women to participate in lifelong learning opportunities and contribute their potential to the economic growth and development of the country.

Gender mainstreaming is the inter-governmentally agreed global strategy for achieving gender equality, informing the stand that it must be part of all training processes, not limited to a select few sectors and job roles.

RCM Reddy is the MD & CEO, Schoolnet India & Learnet Skills and Kanta Singh, Deputy Country Representative, UN Women India. The views are the author’s own.