Training female construction workers
“The men said we could not do it ... but we thought, if we can do the heavy lifting, we can also build a wall."
- Women construction workers,
Karmika training centre
It is a common sight to see women construction workers on many building sites in Asia. They help with the heavy lifting of bricks, cement, buckets of water and stones. Typically, men do the more skilled work, such as brick-laying, plastering or plumbing. In India female construction workers can expect to earn a daily wage of 250 Rupees, which is about USD 3.70.
The Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) works to upgrade the skills of women construction workers in Ranchi, Jharkand and to improve their quality of life. By creating an enabling environment, it is hoped that women with enhanced skills will be able to find better work opportunities and conditions and enjoy higher and more stable wages. At MHT’s training at the Karmika project in Ranchi, women learn how to do brick-laying, plastering, toilet unit construction and hand-pump reparation.
An obvious advantage of being able to do more skilled work is that the women can demand higher wages. The training MHT provides gives them the opportunity to obtain employment in the open market for skilled construction work. For example, as brick-layers they can expect to earn 400 Rupees a day, really making a difference to their lives, both in terms of earning capacity and also in how much they can save.
Paromita Chowdhury, the Programme Officer for Oak’s Joint India Programme expressed some concerns, given that there is a poor implementation of the minimum wage in India. “I hope that more support will be given to the women once they are fully trained to make sure that they can access their entitlement to higher wages for this more skilled work,” she said. “It would be a pity if they were refused a correct salary just because they are women and perceived to be capable only of unskilled construction work. "Priti Oraon is a mother of five children and a widow. She has been a construction worker all her life. After completing a nine-month course with MHT, she was skilled enough to be able to build her own house. She saved enough money to buy the materials and set out to do it.
“My children didn't believe me,” she said. “But I knew I could do it.” She hired a stone mason to help and together, with her as the chief mason, they built the house she now lives in and owns. “It feels good,” she said. “It saved me a lot of money as otherwise I would have had to hire builders to do the work. I feel proud that I could do it by myself, and I am happy because it is inspiring others.”
This project illustrates the work of only one of Oak’s partners in India, who together with others are working to improve slum infrastructure and secure the socio-economic entitlements of workers in the informal economy.
© Rachel McKee
Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report
Year of publication: 2016