Project Manzil: Going Beyond the Traditional Professions

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Reach for the Moon: A project in Rajasthan shows India’s skilling sector that girls can go beyond ‘feminine’ professions like beauty and tailoring and excel at Science, Tech and Finance
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Reach for the Moon: A project in Rajasthan shows India’s skilling sector that girls can go beyond ‘feminine’ professions like beauty and tailoring and excel at Science, Tech and Finance

Twenty-two year old Seema from a remote village in Udaipur district joined a short course in beautician training. With the pressures of marriage mounting upon her, this was a hasty decision in an attempt to delay her marriage without much thought given to her interest or aptitude. She dropped out within a few days as she didn’t enjoy the course. But when Bhagwati Joshi, project Manzil’s Community Motivator, got involved, she encouraged Seema to look at other courses outside the gamut of ‘acceptable’ courses for women. That is when Seema chose the Office Assistant Course offered at a Skill Development Centre in her vicinity. Having completed the course, Seema started working in Udaipur city. “Just because you are a girl, it is not necessary that a course on beautician or even tailoring will appeal to you,” she recalls.

Days after the 2023 Nobel Prizes in Physics and Economics were awarded to women, and weeks after Chandrayaan-3’s celebratory images of ISRO’s women scientists went viral, Seema’s words couldn’t ring truer.

Courses like tailoring, beauty, and wellness are integral to India’s skilling sector, and need to be acknowledged in giving scores of women — especially from rural areas — an income. There is, however, a flip side to the blind, unquestioned way in which certain professions have become synonymous with girls and women, and others — such as Science, IT, and Banking— have not.

Project Manzil has been working with girls in rural Rajasthan since 2019 and has been instrumental in facilitating skill-based training and job placements. During this period, there has been a rise in the number of girls showing interest beyond traditionally ‘feminine’ professions. Sneha Chaudhury, Manzil’s Coordinator for the Dungarpur district, highlights how the number of girls opting for courses like IT and Retail has doubled since 2019.

Project Manzil, which is being implemented in collaboration with the Rajasthan State Livelihoods Development Corporation (RSLDC) with the support of Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), is currently being run in 10 districts of Rajasthan. The project actively promotes greater female participation in skill training programmes, breaking away from traditional choices. With the RSLDC sanctioning more and more non-traditional courses, it has helped create a ripple effect in the state.

Beauty, Nursing Tailoring: The Holy Trinity of ‘Women’s Jobs

Girls and women are traditionally considered caregivers, and each of these roles — is an extension of their care duties often performed at home. Girls from impoverished families are often compelled to discontinue their studies to perform care duties at home – like caring for younger siblings or tending to an ailing parent.

In certain instances, secondary schools in rural areas do not offer Science, leading girls who manage to defy societal expectations to pursue higher education to opt for other subjects despite their interest in Science. One such girl, Monika of Kotputli, Jaipur district, always had a keen interest in Science & Technology, and had to take up humanities in Grade 11. She recalls how the school offering Science was too far from her village and, being private, was unaffordable for her family. For safety, security, and financial purposes, it was not feasible for her to travel to that school every day.

Lastly, many of the ‘feminine’ jobs — especially beauty and tailoring —are also location-agnostic, mostly in the indoor domain, and don’t necessarily require women to go outdoors to work. It is common in many parts of the country for women to run tailoring businesses from their homes. Given the nature of traditional societies and the restrictions they place on girls and women, earning while staying indoors is a perfect fit for the stringent social norms in many areas.

‘Masculine’ Jobs & the Fear of the Great Outdoors

Ranveer Singh, Manzil’s Coordinator in Jaipur district, says that many of the families they have been in contact with are accepting of their girls working in beauty and tailoring. The girls on their part, too, like Seema, often opt for these sectors with little thought to their interest or aptitude. Archana, who belongs to the Chomu sub-district, had done an online beautician course before she realised her interests lay in the banking sector. Jyoti, from a village in Jaipur district, remembers the stiff resistance from her parents at the suggestion that she would go out to work. “Girls don’t go outside the villages, and any kind of job must be strictly home-based or female-centric, such as tailoring or beautician,” she recalls.

There are, however, limitations to confining girls within these conventional sectors, and many of Manzil’s Community Motivators staunchly champion and encourage girls to look outside the box. Babita, the Community Motivator of Kotputli, takes great pride in the fact that she has never admitted a girl in traditionally ‘feminine’ trades. “In my first month itself, I gave 8 admissions —and not a single one of them was tailoring or beautician,” she says proudly. “These sectors don’t offer much in terms of career development — other professions give more exposure. They prepare you for the world. There is something about going out into the world. Every girl must learn, and only then can she teach her village,” she adds. These ideas have had a cascading impact on the psyche of girls who are increasingly showing the courage to persuade their families to chase their dreams and not regret them. Archana, now nine months into her job, commands a different position within her own home. She supports her younger brother’s education, is a critical decision-maker in matters of the household and has just recently convinced her older sister’s husband to let her work in banking as well. Thanks to Archana, her older sister now also works in a bank.

In a world where women are striding ahead in fields like physics and economics and where India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission proudly showcase its women scientists, Project Manzil stands as an exemplar of how young girls through skill training can excel in Science, Tech and Finance.

(Last names of the girls have been withheld to protect their identity.)

Originally published in The Times of India. Link here.

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