Anurita Bhatnagar writes about the need for employers to change their perception about women in construction.

01 March 2017

Expert Talk
Ms Anurita Bhatnagar, Assistant Professor, RICS School of Built Environment, Noida, writes about her case study about women in construction, and concludes that while women can bring a range of skills to the job, systematic reform requires employers to change their perception towards women workers.

Indian construction industry has a share of nearly 19% in the country’s GDP and employs an estimated 30 million people; about half of which are women. Despite the staggering proportion of women in the existing work force, the role of women in construction has been mostly limited to semi-skilled or unskilled category. Until recently it was believed that women lack skills to carry out certain tasks in the construction sector. Such a mindset was responsible for preventing women from being trained in skilled jobs like masonry, carpentry, plumbing, electrical wiring etc.

Till now women have been informally engaged in the sector, primarily being responsible for mundane tasks like carrying bricks, cement, sand, water, digging earth, mixing cement, breaking stones etc. But slowly this invisible barrier of work distribution has been changing. The pioneering work of some state governments and private and civil society organisations has brought about the welcome change of engaging women in ‘skilled’ assignments on construction sites. Most of these initiatives have been targeted at rural/ semi-urban female population, primarily as part of women empowerment initiatives. 

Commendable work has been done by Pipal Tree Ventures (a social organisation engaged in providing vocational training and employment in India) that has put together a team of 300 construction workers, all of whom are women. The crew, employed at a site in Sonbhadra (Uttar Pradesh), underwent a basic 2-week initiation training and learnt the nuances of trade ‘on-the-job’. Besides providing steady employment and source of income to women in need, this pilot initiative has busted the stereotype and been successful in redefining the role of women construction. 

Another initiative by Kudumbashree Constructions has been pioneered under Kerelagovernment’s poverty eradication mission. Kudumbashree partnered with HUDCO and KITCO to train130 women in Ernakulam district in masonry and other fields of construction. All of these women were either civil engineering graduates or diploma holders from industrial training institutes. The all-woman construction team comprising of engineers, supervisors and other skilled workers is competent in construction work with competency in activities including drafting plans and estimating costs. Till 2015, this all women team has built nine houses at a cost of less than Rs.3 lakh each. The group has already received the contract for a housing project in Mookkannoor panchayat in Ernakulam district as part of a state government project to build houses for the destitute.

After training nearly 1000 women, the trainers at Pipal Tree believe that “Women actually learn much faster and are more meticulous.” But, despite the initial success demonstrated in the pilot initiatives, most companies are still reluctant to employ women labourers on site. More such initiatives are needed to bring about the change in mindset and do away with the perceived inequality and gender bias in construction sector.