Nurturing adolescent aspirations in Jharkhand

Girl Champion Neelam at the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand

Celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child this year was special with a visit to Jharkhand in early October. The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, a good two-and-a-half hour drive from Deoghar in Jharkhand, is located in the Phadam village in Palajori block, and is well connected by tar roads. The drive speeds past hillocks, lush green landscapes, clear air, herds of goats, and ducklings. Towards the end of the village, just next to the main road, is a pucca house with a narrow entrance. The world behind the narrow entrance took me by surprise. The walls are full of artwork by adolescent girls – hearts, parrots, peacocks, menstruating women, arms raised asking for menstrual hygiene,  impressions of girls’ hands on the charts with their photographs, their names and much more. 

At the adolescent girls’ centre, about twenty girls aged between 10 and 16 have gathered. After a round of introductions, they head outside into the open space around the house for some routine gameplay. Once back inside, they energetically fished out board games – one on myths about menstrual hygiene, another on factors that could support or impede the journey of an adolescent girl to be self-reliant, and another on problem-solving in times of crisis. Some of them hadn’t played the games before. They read the instructions out loud, shared their own interpretations and ended up in a laughing heap as the confusion grew.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As we spoke, I found the girls loved to play and paint at the centre – two very powerful mediums to liberate the body and express voice. Some of these girls had just restarted school as secondary schools are now slowly reopening in Jharkhand. Others were looking forward to the opening of their own schools – some of which are a good 8-10kms away from the village. I wondered what that distance would mean for them, and asked about their commute. “We will cycle to school!”, they all said confidently. Not even for a moment was there an iota of doubt in any of them – they were determined to to study, and they had worked out how to overcome the barrier of distance. 

During the lockdown some of them learnt to make rakhis, decorate diyas that earned them Rs 10-15 each. They kept these earnings to use in the club, where even some the younger ones proudly shared that they had “learnt something to earn that money.”

Adolescent girls playing board games in the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand.

Neelam is a Girl Champion for the community where this centre is located. A Girl Champion is a peer educator who facilitates club activities and is often seen as a role model in the community. She told me that while the club usually welcomes about 10 or 15 girls on a typical day, they had a special reason for gathering in larger numbers on that day. The club was getting a computer, and the Quest Alliance Anandshala team was setting it up. Like any ‘NGOwali’, I checked if the girls had used computers before. None of them had, even though some of them were in grade 10 and 11. But they had seen a computer, and understood the concept. When I asked some more questions about accessibility to digital platforms, they revealed that a majority of them had used a mobile phone for calls or messages, but not computers. Intrigued, I wanted to know what caused the excitement over this computer here at the centre. One of the girls volunteered an answer – “We will use Google!”. When asked how that would help, she replied in a typical adolescent tone – that unique mix of exasperation and amusement – “Humko nahi pata aur kya ho sakta hai computer pe, hum dekhenge toh pata chalega na?” (We don’t know what else can be done with a computer, we will know once we work (look) into it).  The spirit of curiosity and exploration was obvious, apart from the palpable joy of the entire group celebrating the arrival of a computer. 

Seeing the club in action gave me hope, and sparked many thoughts and ponderings. The girls in this club in remote Jharkhand seem confident, curious, wanting to explore, and ready to take risks. If we assume a similar spirit kindled in adolescents across the state, why then does Jharkhand have high child marriage rates, and issues of early pregnancy? The delicate spirit of this group resonated strongly with me. It is a spirit which, if nurtured, could only grow stronger and take on challenges as a community, but if throttled could get discouraged quickly. 

This was a sobering reminder of what many individuals experience during the adolescent phase. In contrast, Neelam is a wonderful example of that spirit nurtured. Having had to discontinue her studies due to health issues in the family, coupled with mounting education fees and other costs, she saved an honorarium payment, enrolled in college and is currently facilitating the club and pursuing her studies. In a way, she personifies the impact of Girl Champions in the community.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As State, society and civil society organisations, can we truly be open to engage with adolescent girls and parents, with the objective to encourage them? Each one has a role to play in making our schools a space that is encouraging and engaging. How do we as CSO’s not label programmes and not favour certain kinds of strategies over others? How do both state and CSO’s make parents allies and not operate in the paradigm of “parents are not interested”? These are questions that need quick and effective answers. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that adolescent girls are part of the solutioning, and models can be built to harness the adolescent spirit. Games, play, income-generating activities, modules and courses, health, computers, literacy – we need it all to support adolescent girls in the country. Many more Neelams are in the making at the club. They have defined their own paths, and we owe it to them to support their dreams and ambitions. 

Words By: Deepika K Singh, Quest Alliance
Photos By: Shitanshu Sharma, Quest Alliance

Making informed career decisions.

An analysis of the kind of career decisions taken up by women trainees after their ITI training.

We live in a world of paradoxes and the declining participation of women in the labour force is one such reality that has become a cause of concern and shame for all of us. Despite rising-levels of education in women, year-on-year, the Female Labour Force Participation Rate(FLPR) of women in India is on the decline. This dismal trend represents the way women are perceived in our households, forced to make compromises at every step of their career journeys.

“I was interested in studying engineering but my parents asked me to join this Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and study the beautician course – they did not want me to do an office job and this ITI was near our house,” says Radhika (name changed), Student, State Govt Women ITI

Radhika’s reality is not uncommon among women, who pursue vocational education in government-run women ITIs. The pandemic has only made matters worse and further exacerbated this gender divide in the workforce. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), as of November 2020, 67% of all men of working age (15-64) were employed, in comparison to just 9% of women, who were employed in the same period of time.

The second wave of the pandemic which was more intense and led to an exponentially large number of deaths has made it even more difficult for women to enter the workforce. But, amidst this grim reality, are there new trends in employment for women that have emerged?

“Earlier I was looking for jobs related to my trade but there were so many issues like low salary, timings and distance from home. I then came across a tele-calling role which paid more and I was able to convince my family to take it up, even though it had nothing to do with my trade,” says Nikitaben Tadvi, an alumna of Basic Cosmetology from NSTI, Vadodara.

In March 2021, Quest Alliance analysed the placement trends of 3983 women graduating from ITIs and NSTIs across Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. We specifically looked at what sectors and roles working alumni have taken up.

According to the study, during the pandemic, 46% of the working alumni opted for non-trade based employment, garnering a monthly income of Rs. 8400 which is Rs.600 more than income from trade-specific employment.

This finding must be placed in the context of the challenges women face in ITIs to convince families to allow them to pursue a career. Family support (or the lack of it) plays a pivotal role in key career decisions made by women post course completion. Factors like distance from home & perceptions about the type of jobs women can do play a significant role in ensuring if a young woman enters the workforce.

The findings in that respect indicate that women in ITIs were able to negotiate with families to take up non-trade specific job roles owing to higher average monthly incomes and greater flexibility with respect to location and job timings. New employment options like work from home due to the pandemic has also helped many women enter the workforce.

“I used to work as a teacher before the pandemic. But after I lost my job, I decided to take up a work from home job opportunity as a telecaller. I get paid Rs. 12,000 a month and work from the convenience of my home,” says Janvi Harvi, an alumna of fashion design technology from Govt. ITI, Junagad (woman).

The study also looked into state-specific trends and offered insights on the kind of jobs women in ITIs were pursuing post course-completion.

While Delhi had 42% working alumni who took up trade-specific jobs; Rajasthan on the other hand had 74% women working in trade-specific jobs. The difference in states may be attributed to availability of trade-specific industry, migrant population in a region and the perception of families regarding the kind of employment suitable for women.

Quest Alliance’s intervention in women ITIs and NSTIs since the past four years has helped influence deep seated perceptions in families about the need for women to enter the workforce, and the kind of jobs they can take up. Activities like virtual parent engagement initiated by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs, during the pandemic, have given parents an opportunity to both understand and support the aspirations of their daughters.

“I promise to support my daughter in her career and bring up marriage only when she is of the right age to take decisions on this,” says Jitendra Kumar, a parent of an ITI student in Delhi

Additionally, the Placement Officers in ITIs and NSTIs have also played a pivotal role in negotiating with parents to support their daughters to take up non-trade based jobs. Events like virtual job fairs, industry guest sessions, and job drives organized in collaboration with Quest Alliance have gone a long way in supporting women students in ITIs find a job despite the pandemic.

“The one thing that I am really proud of as a Placement Officer is that even during the pandemic, we were able to place our trainees via a virtual job fair. In UP, women trainees are weary of the private sector. They think that as women the only thing they can do is work as trainers in ITIs or as teachers for the government. It is this deep rooted mindset that we are up against. And, every placement in the private sector feels like a small victory” says Neerja Sood, PO, NSTI (W), Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh

The intervention by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs across states in India is a testament to the fact that a concerted effort in changing deep rooted perceptions about women entering the workforce can bring in long-term behavioral change in families and encourage more women to enter the workforce.

An ecosystem level approach involving all stakeholders (parents, students & institutes) has helped women students in ITIs and NSTIs make use of opportunities like work from home or take up higher paying non-trade based jobs during the pandemic. For a woman to take up work of her choice; she needs to be self-confident, believe in herself and speak out and negotiate. Therefore this choice to work in a trade based or non trade based sector is a function of women’s agency.

Quest Alliance’s intervention has helped women develop this agency and given them the confidence to take control of their careers and learning journey.

Key insights from the study can be seen here.

About the JPM project:
Quest Alliance, supported by JP Morgan, has worked with 84 ITIs and NSTIs across 19 states impacting around 40,000 disadvantaged young women since January 2018. Women are provided essential life and career development skills. The program also seeks to influence systems change, through capacity building of ITI leadership, placement officers and trainers on gender sensitization, industry engagement and placements.

How to prepare young people for the future of work and lifelong learning

“With little idea about the jobs of the future, the key responsibility of the education system is to equip young people with the skills needed to manoeuvre this ever-changing landscape.”

With the future of work and learning having been the key focus at Quest2Learn Summit 2019, Dr Anantha Duraiappah – Director of the UNESCO MGIEP – helped map the landscape of education to make sense of the opportunities that lie in lifelong learning.

Here’s a thought-provoking excerpt from his keynote speech at the Summit:

‘Leaving no one behind’ has been at the center of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with its emphasis on equitable and inclusive education. Anchoring his keynote speech at Quest2Learn Summit 2019 around this theme, Dr Anantha Duraiappah – Director of the UNESCO MGIEP – spoke about the problems plaguing the education sector and the structural changes needed to promote equity and inclusion.

Dr Duraiappah opens with some startling facts that shed light on the level of extremism and intolerance prevalent among the youth in India and the sense of anxiety and depression common among this subset of the population today.

Continue reading “How to prepare young people for the future of work and lifelong learning”

Learning with your Learners

What does it take to be an impactful facilitator? Nuneseno Chase writes about being an an instructor, counsellor, friend, mentor, administrator … but always a learner.

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Over the years as a facilitator, I’ve discovered that learners have different characteristics, different learning capabilities, different reaction times, different attitudes, values, interests, motivations and personalities.  I need to be aware of these differences and adjust my pedagogy and learning environment accordingly.

Continue reading “Learning with your Learners”

Campfire, Community and Common Purpose

What does it mean to be a learner? For Divas Vats, participating in the School for Democracy fellowship has been a lesson in the value of struggle, the importance of hope, and the need to do justice to the opportunities for learning that come our way.

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I can’t recall a better start to the year than 2018.

On December 20, my mentor Bezwada Wilson walked into the room and asked me to book the tickets for the fortnightly long workshop of the Democracy Fellowship by the School For Democracy, an initiative of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). Over the course of three years, it brings together 52 grassroots activists from 17 states. We fellows engage with the state and work to influence systemic change and struggle for rights and entitlements.

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The Future of Social Sector Storytelling

The next step for storytelling in the development sector is “democratization” – enabling more people to capture and share narratives.

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Why do we tell stories? It’s a basic human need, and you can trace it right back through history – through oral traditions, art and literature. Storytelling through the moving image, or video, is a more recent phenomenon, but speaks to the same part of the human spirit. Seeing action unfolding visually before you can have a very profound impact on the viewer.

Continue reading “The Future of Social Sector Storytelling”