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Disha in Action

Stories of Aspiration, Stories of Direction

Story by undp india December 29th, 2016

Deepika, now 20, had been making the rounds with her mother as a domestic worker since she was a little girl. She grew to love cooking but was disheartened by the lack of respect shown to domestic workers. At a Career Guidance and Counselling Centre set up with SEWA Bharat under the Disha project, Deepika discovered that even as a class 10th graduate, she could enrol in a hotel management course. Now, Deepika is pursuing her dream of becoming a chef. Over the last year, 10,000 young girls like Deepika have benefitted from such services.


At 35, Mamta managed to convince her husband and his family that she could both earn an income and run the household as well. She found the opportunity to get the skills she needed through a public-private partnership under Disha with Jindal Stainless Steel Limited, one of the country’s leading steel manufacturers. The training comes with the promise of employment and Mamta will soon become a bread winner for her family while breaking through to the factory floor, traditionally dominated by men.


In India, which has witnessed a decline in female labour force participation over the last decade, that the market is more willing than ever before to recognize the talent of women is a welcome and positive trend. In a first, the India Skills Report 2017 notes that qualified female candidates have been assessed to be more employable, albeit marginally, than their male counterparts.


India will have the largest number of working people in the world by 2020. And, if as many women come out to work as men currently do, India’s GDP could increase by as much as 27 percent. This potential demographic dividend presents a significant opportunity – but a lot needs to be done to reap its benefits.


The Disha project is a three-year partnership launched by the India Development Foundation, Xyntéo and UNDP, supported by IKEA Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of one million women in India by helping them learn marketable skills, connecting them with income opportunities and assisting women to become economically self-sufficient. Disha has over 40 pilots running across the National Capital Region of Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana.


As the eldest of four children, Rubina has become adept at looking after the house and taking care of her younger siblings. Like millions of other women, she didn’t know how she could train to become a teacher. That changed with the Pankh Portal, a web-based career guidance and counseling tool designed for young women like Rubina. With the information on the portal, she was able to enrol in a Bachelor’s of Science programme, post her résumé online and apply for prospective jobs.


According to the India Skills Report 2017, 88 percent students indicated that they were interested in trainings, internships and apprenticeships. Muskaan, a Skill Sakhi (or skill friend) from the Nagpur district in Maharashtra, plays the key role of spreading awareness to help other young women in her community find information about training and job opportunities. Incubated by Pratham Foundation under Disha, Skill Sakhis such as Muskaan are women role models in their local communities, leaders that young women can look up to and emulate.


To positively and productively engage young people, the Disha Chat initiative aims to bridge the information gap early on, starting conversations on concepts as wide-ranging as empowerment, higher education, employability, apprenticeship and entrepreneurship among secondary and senior secondary schoolgirls. With support from Disha, TARA and Development Alternatives are conducting Disha Chat sessions in schools across the NCR, aiming to reach 45 schools and 15,000 girls.


Career fairs too have proven to be a useful way to draw attention to the challenges and opportunities awaiting young women in the job market. The Maharozgar Melawa in Amravati district, organized by the Government of Maharastra and supported by the Disha project, was attended by 23,000 young people, including many women. At the event, young women were given exclusive orientation slots, training and registrations, with many being interviewed and hired on the spot.


For many women, the challenge of managing a home makes self-employment a natural alternative. However, of the approximately 58.5 million businesses in India, only 8.05 million are managed by women. To encourage more young women to view entrepreneurship as a feasible option and to motivate them to launch their own enterprises someday, Disha supported Girls in Tech India to organize an intensive boot camp style training session in Hyderabad, attended by more than 200 young women from across the state.


A targeted entrepreneurship development programme too is under way. With the aim to improve financial literacy and provide handholding and mentorship support, it seeks to help women looking for alternative livelihoods. Bibi Jaan, a former sex worker, always wanted a business of her own. With training and support through Disha, Bibi Jaan started a small dairy business in Bangalore and is now looking to expand to other areas.


Despite gains made towards education and health, there has been limited headway in bridging the gender gap and inequality due to uneven progress on crucial indicators, including economic participation and political empowerment. When empowered, women can be the most important agents of change in the lives of their children and communities and are hence key to a sustainable world.