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Empowering women construction workers in India

India Programme / Partner story

Photo: © Oak Foundation
Photo caption: Women Construction workers, Mahila Housing SEWA Trust, Jharkhand, India, December 2016

Women often work on construction sites in Asia. They help by carrying bricks, cement and buckets of water. Typically, men do the more skilled work, such as brick-laying, plastering or plumbing. Skilled workers on construction sites earn 40 per cent more than unskilled workers.

The Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), based in Ahmedabad in Jharkhand, India, works to upgrade the skills of women construction workers in Ranchi, Jharkhand 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. MHT’s training at the Karmika project in Ranchi allows women to learn how to do brick-laying, plastering, toilet unit construction and hand-pump reparation.

Priti Oraon is a mother of five children and a widow. She has been a construction worker all her life. Following training 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.

Since it began, MHT has trained more than 700 women in Ranchi on masonry and toilet construction. The salaries of about a third of these Karmika graduates have increased by between 20 and 50 per cent. In addition, they have been able to increase the number of days they work.

The construction of individual houses and toilets under the government schemes on “Housing for All” and the “Clean India Mission” has helped Karmikagraduates to find work in their own villages. In many cases, like Priti Oraon, they have constructed their own houses and toilets and saved labour costs. They work in groups with other Karmika graduates from their own villages

Small contractors are impressed by the quality of construction and have started to hire Karmika graduates as masons and assistants. This has helped the women to find higher paid jobs locally.

The training provided by Karmika is helping the women to get certification from the National Skill Development Council. This means that they become readily employable by established builders and construction companies.

This work falls under Oak’s India Programme by aiming to improve the lives of the most marginalised groups. Read more about this part of the strategy here.

Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report 2017