The Future of Agriculture – Putting Women in the Driver’s SeatAgriculture & Rural Development | June 17, 2011
Throughout the developing world, women are often a quiet force...
In recent years, we’ve seen more women driving both around town and on television. Because of this, many companies are now starting to market to female drivers. Automotive companies are designing products for young women, like Mahindra’s Flyte PowerScooter. A single mother started the ForShe Taxi Service, which employs women to drive women in Mumbai and Delhi. Indian women are even getting face time driving in advertisements, such as the Hyundai Santro commercial where gutsy Preity Zinta outdrives Shah Rukh Khan. And now that it is no longer uncommon for women to drive, companies like Ajanta Ltd are actually employing them to do so professionally.
Hiring women as drivers
Women were once faced—and still are, to some extent—with great obstacles to gainful employment. Educational barriers, skill gaps, and wage discrimination have long been prominent. Domestic responsibilities and traditional gender roles often left them submissive to husbands, fathers, and brothers. As a result, few women in India work as skilled laborers.
However, more and more companies are looking to train women for skilled positions. Today, localized labor shortages mean that putting women in jobs that have been traditionally held by men is a good business decision. These companies are not the only ones who benefit: an increase in opportunities for skilled work means better wages and working conditions than most Indian women have ever experienced.
Since the early 1990s, the manufacturing and mining industries have suffered from decreasing wage rates, informalization, and casualization, which has made it a less promising source of employment for women. Ajanta’s program now makes these industries accessible to women, helping close the gender gap and create employment for 2,500 local women. Many of these women are hired as professional drivers.
Day in the life of Ajanta’s women drivers
Ajanta drivers use the Gio, a compact truck made to carry small quantities of goods over rough roads. At first, two-wheeled carts were used to do this job, but as business expanded and factories grew, the distance between the assembling units increased. To save time, Ajanta turned to the Gio for its maneuverability, size, and competitive pricing. Its ability to maneuver in tight spaces or through crowded areas makes it the perfect truck for factory work.
The Gio’s maneuverability makes it easy to drive—even for first-time drivers like many of the women Ajanta hires. It doesn’t take long for them to feel right at home behind the wheel as they transport loads between the factories. In addition to driver’s training, the women learn the daily maintenance and basic mechanics of their trucks.
New opportunities for women—and India
Women working in skilled jobs, such as Ajanta’s drivers, enjoy benefits far beyond the workplace. Indeed, as skilled laborers, they are better able to provide for their families. As the percentage of women holding skilled positions increase, we are seeing stronger economic growth, healthier children, lower fertility rates, improved social and gender equity, wiser spending of resources on family needs,and many other social and economic benefits. According to “An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in India,” a report published by the University of Amsterdam, labor force participation is also associated with decreased fertility and an increase in age at which women first bear children.
Opportunities for women are opportunities for India. Consider that in 2005, 60 percent of the women employed in India were illiterate—compared to 28 percent of men. Since 2001, the gap between male and female literacy has shrunk to 16.6 percent from 21.6 percent. Skilled labor programs, like the one at Ajanta, work to close this education gap in workplaces throughout India. As this gap closes, India unleashes new talent to drive economic growth—and social change.
What do you think increased opportunities for skilled jobs for women in manufacturing means for India? How do you think we can continue to close our gender gap and improve working conditions for women?
Despite the fairly balanced gender distribution in the Indian population, research shows that women have largely been excluded from India’s economic boom.
The sex ratio in India is about 927 girls to every 1000 boys. In many states, like Haryana and Punjab, young men have to spread their nets very wide to look for wives. This situation is similar to the one faced by China when its one child policy led to many female babies being aborted.