Training youth for employment: How young women in India are still falling through the cracks

By Ria Chauhan

Every year on 15 July – World Youth Skills Day – nations around the world echo the importance of ‘skilled youth’ for sustainable development. At its core, the UN’s World Youth Skills Day is a celebration of the member states’ global commitment to “equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship”, especially in working towards Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Even though skills development has consistently been a priority in the last few years, young women are still falling through the cracks. In South Asia, 27 percent of young people are not in employment, education or training (NEET), representing one of the most at-risk groups as they are not actively and economically engaged in society. NEET is exponentially higher for young women, accounting for a staggering 89 percent of the share of NEET in the region. This means that nine out of every ten young NEETs will be women. As the UN’s World Youth Skills Day inspires institutions and stakeholders to come together to support training youth for personal success and economic growth, it is vital that they apply a gendered lens.

Stories from the Yuvakendra centres as part of the Uday Skills to Livelihood programme. Photo credit: HCL Foundation and Development Initiatives

Reducing youth NEET rates has been a priority for the 2030 Agenda under various goals; Goal 8 on “Promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”; SDG 4, “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”; and SDG 5, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Yet women in India, who make up 48% of the population, still continue to be left out of the region’s economic successes. The female labour force participation rate (LFPR)—share of working-age women who report either being employed, or being available for work—has fallen to a historic low of 23 percent versus 76 percent for men.

Applying a gendered lens is useful to understanding what is missing from this equation and how gender imbalances continue to subordinate women and their potential. India continues to have a high NEET rate and a high NEET gender gap. Learnings from the ground can supplement this process. Here are some insights into the lives of three young women from peri-urban areas of Khoda, Uttar Pradesh who were trained in the necessary skills for employment as part of a skills development programme supported by HCL Foundation and social enterprise, Development Alternatives. This can provide us a glimpse into the myriad of ways gender inequality intersects with employability for young women:

Afroza Parween, 19, is considered a ‘dropout’ as she and many other girls in her community are forced to take up household responsibilities rather than finish their schooling. Faced with financial constraints, parents favour educating their sons instead, a choice often made in patriarchal landscapes. Without educational degrees, core skills for employability, life skills, and training, Afroza faces an uncertain future. 

Twinkle Saxsena, 19, has a high school degree but lacks the skills to enter the job market. Girls are often less trained in financial literacy, preparation for interviews, life skills, and other important foundation skills for acquiring jobs. Unlike in other developing regions like Africa, higher educational attainment does not lead to a lower NEET rate in India. Thus a low LFPR exists in educated as well as uneducated women, and support for improving this statistic needs to be multidimensional rather than focussed on qualifications. 

Rachna Dubey, 19, wants to become part of the skills development programme set up in her community after being forced to drop out of school at 15, but is met with backlash from her family. She is supported in her decisions by members of the programme, who focus on creating a change in mindsets by counselling parents and creating awareness weeks before the skilling initiative even begins.

A group of young women in India at school. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Even though NEET is a multidimensional issue, belief in archaic gender norms and restricting women to household unpaid work has been a consistent contributing factor that requires communications and advocacy for behavioural change. Thus, as the interventions for providing young people in India with training and skills for employment start to heavily focus on digital literacy and the creation of more jobs and training programmes, it is imperative to tackle the roots of gender inequality that present a significant barrier for young women entering the workforce.

India is set to have the largest number of working people in the world. If women are supported in their endeavours, India’s gross domestic product could increase by as much as 18 percent. This provides a significant opportunity and impetus to prioritise skills development while also focussing on the lives of young women by helping them to overcome disadvantage. By mainstreaming gender and influencing mindsets, skills development initiatives can ignite a new way for people to think about young women within the global workforce.

Ria works in development communications and knowledge management. Her interests are in gender, sustainable and inclusive development and international relations.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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