While growing up in a small village in the Dungarpur district, Monika recalls how the idea of being a "burden" simply on account of her gender almost felt like a privilege. "When you have grown up with a physical disability and are a girl in a patriarchal society, you aren't simply a 'burden' in the same way every other girl is you bear a double burden," she says.
With the family's finances already in doldrums, Monika was like an invisible member of her family, who completed her school education and continued living at home doing simple household chores. Unlike other girls of her age, Monika was not even seen as a candidate for marriage, because of her disability. The monthly disability pension she received from the government, was hardly a consolation.
But soon, the tide began to change.
After encountering a skilling programme, where she was trained in tailoring, Monika worked hard to build herself. Midway into her training, Monika also lost her father, but undeterred, she established herself as a master trainer and now works at the same skill centre where she once was a student. Today, she is the sole breadwinner for the family, supporting food, supplies, and even her mother's Tuberculosis treatment.
The Burden of Gender: Girls as Caregivers
Education data on school dropouts during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown alarming trends. For instance, a UNICEF survey of 50,000 Indian adolescents during the COVID pandemic, reports that while 90% of respondents were currently enrolled in school, a third of them knew of at least one girl who had dropped out. The dropouts were either engaged in domestic work or married.
These numbers show that the COVID pandemic only heightened beliefs that already existed. Boys are educated because of the perception of them as "breadwinners." Girls are the first to drop out (or made to drop out) because of the perception as "burdens" who can, at best, be married or engage in care work at home.
Project Manzil with support from Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, is being implemented by IPE Global in partnership with Government of Rajasthan in six districts of Rajasthan, seeks to reverse this narrative. The agenda is simple, providing access to skilling and job placements for young girls aged 18-21 years, to tackle early marriages and pregnancies. Since its inception in 2019, one of the by-products has also been the way it has nudged inter-family dynamics, changing the ways in which a girl functions within the family, the role she occupies and to a large extent, change the eco-system within families by shifting the caregiver responsibilities to another member of the family.
Skill Programmes & Going from Caregiver to Breadwinner
Girls who are mobilised by Manzil are in a plethora of jobs and sectors. While tailoring, beauty and wellness have been popular choices in the skilling sector (especially for girls), in Manzil, girls are encouraged to try aspirational courses like Healthcare, Retail, IT, and cloud computing and work in sectors as wide-ranging as IT, hospitals, banking, to e-commerce and the BPO sector. Girls who had never stepped out of their villages are now working in big cities like Jaipur, and Udaipur, and neighbouring states. Many now earn more than INR 10,000, contributing financially and having a significant say in household decisions.
For instance, Archana, from Jaipur, started working as a telecaller in one of India's leading private banks in Jaipur after completing a course on soft skills. In just under a year of employment, Archana, in a paradoxical reversal of the patriarchal system, supports her brother's education; and is a critical decision-maker in the house. She convinced her older sister's husband to let her sister work, and now, thanks to Archana, her older sister works in a bank in Jaipur. "Earlier, I used to stay at home and even going out locally into Chomu seemed impossible. Now I regularly travel to Jaipur city on my own," she says. "I cannot recognise the person I used to be," she says.
In many of the cases, the girls have gone on to assume a 'breadwinner' role within the household, and care work has been taken on by other family members. For instance, Deepa, from Ajmer district, grew up with a disabled mother, she recalled 'mothering' her mother, cooking, cleaning, and helping her with everything. But once Deepa started working in Jaipur, after completing a course on the foundations of cloud computing, she had to hand over the care duties to someone else. "My father now does all the work I did at home."
Girls who grew up watching their mothers and aunts dependent on their husbands' income now find themselves in a position of financial independence, which they want to use to better the lives of their families. Monica from Kotputli in Jaipur, who completed a 9-month course in software development and is now earning INR 20,000, has promised to get her parents' home renovated, and also make sure they all travel by 'cheel gaadi' (plane), just like she did when she first went out of Jaipur. "I want them to feel the same joy as I did," she says.
Meanwhile, Monika from Dungarpur, over time, has made remarkable progress. Her achievements have received widespread acclaim, and she has been awarded by the Minister of State for Sports and Skills on Youth Skills Day. She excels in her work and now aspires to set up a boutique in Udaipur.
(M K Padma Kumar is the COO of IPE Global and Arima Singh is the Deputy Team Leader (Project Manzil) at IPE Global. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)