By Lavanya Garg and Snigdha Shahi:
At just 21, Gurubari Jonko, a garment worker in Bengaluru, is the sole breadwinner of her family. Her family consists of a 15-year-old brother and an ailing mother, who both live in her native village in Jharkhand.
She tells us excitedly that her little brother wants to become an engineer. We ask her what did she want to become? Her eyes light up as she responds, “A teacher.”
After finishing school, Gurubari planned to enrol for a graduate degree course at a nearby college. But financial constraints in her household made her take up tailor training at the local rural training centre set up by Shahi Exports Pvt Ltd in her village.
After the 45-day training, she, along with 70 other girls from nearby villages, came to Bengaluru. Her family was nervous about sending her to an unknown city but it was reassuring for them that all the girls were going together and would live in a company hostel.
Gurubari herself was anxious about taking up her first job. But now, three years later, she enjoys her work and has adjusted to life in Bengaluru. It helps that many of the girls in the hostel are from her native state.
Two of our ongoing randomised control trials at the Good Business Lab aims to understand the impact on hostel living conditions for workers, after the transfer of management from the employer to a third-party NGO, and the impact of setting up a rural training centre on the local village economy. Access to a training centre and a hostel in the city of her workplace have been instrumental in getting Gurubari to where she is now – from a girl in a remote village to a working woman in a metropolitan city.
As India seeks to reap the demographic dividend from its large and youthful force, creating and providing access to job opportunities takes on more significance than ever. For women especially, structural and societal barriers to education result in lower access to employment opportunities. According to ILO estimates, women’s labour force participation rate in India has fallen from 37% to 27% in the last decade.
To put this statistic into perspective, 114 out of 185 countries recorded an increase in the percentage of women’s participation in the labour force in the last decade; only 41 countries experienced a decline and India currently has the second-lowest rate in South Asia after Pakistan. “The Power of Parity” report by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that India can increase its GDP by 16%-60% by enabling women to participate in the economy at par with men.
For the past three years, Gurubari has been sending money back home and has made sure that her brother continued his schooling, her mother had money for treatment, and that they were able to hire help to work on their small agricultural land. As Gurubari proves to her family and community her self-reliance and financial independence through her work, she also displays greater charge of decision making in her personal life – like when to get married, a decision often not within the control of Indian women.
“I never expected to go to Bengaluru and become a tailor! I used to think of being a teacher, getting my BA degree, and maybe eventually opening an institute to teach children. I used to take informal tuitions for children back in my village. The closest I can get here to that is visiting the crèche and talking to the little ones whenever I get time. I couldn’t study after class 12 but I want to make sure my brother goes to college and studies what he wants,” says Gurubari.
She often thinks about going back to studying but she is practical. She points out that if both she and her brother were to study, there would be no one to earn for the family. She is mulling over taking computer classes in Bengaluru, somewhere near her hostel, but then again, managing classes with work is a challenge.
In her three-year-old tenure, Gurubari has moved up from the position of tailor to batch captain. Production pressure is always high but she understands that if she’s angry and yelling at tailors, it will harm the work. They will also not be in the right state of mind to work properly or happily. We point out to her, isn’t she a teacher already, even if not the sort she expected? She considers this for a few seconds and smiles, “Yes, maybe I already am.”
This article is part of a three-part series that aims to highlight the Good Business Lab’s three focus areas – freeing up female labour force, improving job quality and skilling the workforce – by bringing to life the voice of young female garment workers, on the occasion of International Youth Day. By sharing the hardships, triumphs and everyday lives of young women in the garments sector, we wish to build a dialogue on #WorkerWelfareIsGoodBusiness.
These pieces have been written and compiled by Lavanya Garg (Research and Communications Manager at GBL) and Snigdha Shahi (Research and Communications Associate at GBL).
You can find more stories like these on Good Business Lab’s annual magazine here.