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Wheels of Change

A young woman’s quest to break stereotypes through her personal journey.

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At a time when India is battling its worst employment woes, it is heartening to see women taking up roles and jobs in the informal sector that society considers fit only for men.  ‘Not a woman’s job’, ‘society does not accept this’, ‘sports are not meant for girls’, ‘a woman can’t’ – these are just some of the things women across the world hear every time they try to rise above stereotypes and achieve something new. 

Fortunately, there are many women who decide not to pay heed to the naysayers and move on, breaking barriers and reaching new heights in their quest to fulfill personal dreams and ambitions. Meet Assam-based Nilufer Jahan, who completed her ITI in the fitter trade and landed a job in Oil India Limited (OIL). 

Jahan lives in a middle-class home with her mother, father, two older sisters, and two younger sisters. “I have completed my B.A. (Hons) in Political Science. Earlier, I wanted to become a lawyer. However, I gave it up. One of my friends suggested that I take admission in an ITI in the fitter trade. I was a little surprised as it is considered a profession for boys. I researched around it a little to find out that there are many job opportunities available after doing it. So, I thought to myself that if boys can do it, why not me? So, I finally took admission in ITI Tinsukia in the fitter trade,” she says.

Little did she realise that her journey would be tough. Many laughed at her. They ridiculed her for taking admission in a trade that is considered solely for boys. However, these remarks only strengthened her resolve to succeed. 

“I knew that my family is with me. They have supported me with all their heart. Why should I listen to others? It is my decision to be in the fitter trade. It is high time that society sees women as equal and stops stereotyping. All these things only increased my determination. I wanted to prove them wrong. I became much more focused on my goals,” she says.

Speaking about her experience of being in the ITIs, Jahan says, “The teachers were very friendly. They were eventually surprised to find a girl in the fitter trade. However, they were very supportive. They encouraged me in all the ways they can.”

During her stint at the ITI, Jahan came to know about the employability skills curriculum of Quest Alliance from her faculty members. She enquired a little about the course which provoked her interest in it. “The employability skills curriculum was an icing on the cake. It turned out to be way better than I could ever imagine. It increased my confidence. Thanks to the course, I never hesitated talking in front of the class. The course helped me gain skills that are very essential in the personal and professional life. It also helped me gain the necessary skills of time management, appearing in interviews etc.  One thing that the pandemic has made clear is that only bookish knowledge will not help you survive in the job market. You have to upskill yourselves every now and then,” she says.

The confidence and skills that she gained helped her clear the examination and land a job at OIL. “This is a tribute to those who always stood by me and also a message to the society that women can achieve anything that they wish to. People look at me differently and give my examples to others. It is high time that women break stereotypes and achieve success. Society should also play its part in helping and uplifting women,” she says with a sense of achievement in her eyes.

Female labor force participation in India has been declining consistently over the last three decades especially in the non-traditional livelihoods where participation of women is and has historically been conventionally low or absent.  As per a report by the Observer Research Foundation, India has an acute shortage of skilled workers. From 2009, when the National Policy on Skill Development was formulated, there has been concerted support for policy-backed skill development initiatives. In recent years, there has been greater recognition of the need for skilling, and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has launched several programs. India’s skilling programs are struggling to keep up with the demands of a changing and dynamic employment market. The pandemic and the “new normal” have speeded up the adoption of digital technology, transformed the world of work, and upended the demands of the market. 

Skilling needs to cope with the transformations of the digital age. In the new normal, there is a risk of women with limited or no access being excluded even further. The pandemic has amplified the gendered digital divide. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Quest Alliance have, to some extent, filled the gap. Women like Nilufer Jahan can motivate others to join the jobs that help break stereotypes, thus giving them access to livelihoods that have been traditionally male-dominated. This enables them to earn more money than they would in the roles that are often assigned to them.

Nilufer is all set to join the OIL soon.

Nilufar Jahan

Alumni, Tinsukia ITI

“I knew that my family is with me. They have supported me with all their heart. Why should I listen to others? It is my decision to be in the fitter trade. It is high time that society sees women as equal and stops stereotyping.”