Challenging Gender Perceptions through Unusual Trades – Livelihood Skills Training
By Richard Parkin
Dhaka, 16 February 2012: At the Champa 14 Training Centre in Basabo, Dhaka, students are learning to remove and refit basic components of a motorbike – wheels, tires, braking and cooling systems, as well as battery and fuel systems. Such scenes occur every day in mechanic workshops across Bangladesh, but for one simple exception – over half the students here are girls.
Gender-based discrimination continues to be a major issue within Bangladeshi society with many occupations informally partitioned as either men’s or women’s work. Since February 2011 through its ‘Livelihood Skills’ program UNICEF, with its implementing partners, are seeking to challenge some of these perceptions by offering eight different trades (ranging from motorcycle maintenance, tile fitting and screen printing among others) to both male and female graduates from its ‘Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working Children’ (BEHTRUWC) program. In addition to six months vocation-specific training for three hours per day, six days per week, learners receive a daily transport and food allowance of 50 taka, as well as upon completion an 11,000 taka lump sum for tool or equipment purchases, additional skills training, or to help establish self-employment.
MaksudaAkter, 16, is like so many girls from the Trimohoni slum. Her family share a basic tin hut, her father works irregularly as a rickshaw driver and her mother at a garments factory. Until she was selected for the Basic Education program, Maksuda had never attended school, and embroidered clothing to supplement her parents’ income.
Unlike other girls however Maksuda is now learning a trade that has been traditionally viewed as a ‘man’s job’. Not that this idea fazed her when she opted to learn motorcycle maintenance. ‘Anybody can learn trades such as embroidery – but this is a technical trade, a difficult skill. If I can master this, then I don’t see why people wouldn’t employ me.’
Upstairs, fifteen-year-old Songita hunches with a soldering iron over a circuit board. At the completion of the BEHTRUWC program she was selected for additional Livelihood Skills training, and chose the trade of electrician. For her the decision was in many ways a pragmatic one: ‘Not only can I earn a good salary with this skill but I can also save some money by fixing any problems in my own house!’
Despite persistent views surrounding ‘gendered labour’ existing within the wider community, Mohammad MahaburRakhman, Project Officer from UNICEF’s implementing partner TMSS, remains confident that attitudes can change. ‘Before establishing this centre we did extensive community consultation and awareness-raising around the idea of girls working in traditionally ‘male’ trades. Now, all of the participants and at least 80-90% of the parents think there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.’
And it seems possible that economic concerns may eventually dissipate any social concerns. As TahminaAkter, the mother of another girl in the motorcycle maintenance class points out: “We are very poor people, so any trade is better than none.”