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Why women hold the key to India’s prosperity

A hairdressing class at a vocational skills centre in North Haryana (Photo: BBC).

Victoria Craig/BBC

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India’s rapid growth has not yet encouraged more women to look for jobs.

According to the World Bank, India has one of the lowest female labor participation rates in the world. Less than a third of women 15 years and older are working or actively looking for a job.

The non profit Kamalini is on a mission to change this through vocational training programs that teach women basic employment skills.

Students learn hairdressing at the Kamalini school (Photo: BBC)

But there are challenges. Kamalini recently open a new vocational skills center in Haryana, northern India, a state which has some of the worst gender equity indicators in the country. Fewer women work in Haryana than in the rest of India and more baby girls are aborted in the state than anywhere else in the country because of a preference for sons. 

For the women currently enrolled in a beauty course at Kamalini, the simple act of leaving home everyday is revolutionary.

Mamta — who only provided her first name — is 17-years-old. Four years ago, her family married her off and she now has two daughters: “My mother felt terrible that I’d never had a chance to learn anything so she enrolled me on this course so that I can be more independent,” she said.

“I took a bus by myself for the first time recently with my daughter, I can’t tell you how great that felt.”

Empowering a new generation of entrepreneurs

Nisha sews a garment at a vocational school (Credit: BBC)

Not far from the training center, Nisha and Rekha — who also only provided first names — are enrolled in a tailoring course. Both were offered jobs — and both were forced by their families not to accept.

As a compromise, they were allowed to open their own shop in Rekha’s family home:

“We opened a month ago.” Nisha said. “There was a wedding in our village so [we] got orders for 29 dresses. In our first month, we earned $170 … and everyone saw our work on display at the wedding, so we got even more orders.”

Rekha and Nisha (R) outside the workshop where they sew garments. (Credit: BBC)

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