Currently working as an Assistant Operation Engineer, supervising quality control at Mymensingh Agro Ltd in Gazipur Suma is proof of how women can prosper through vocational training.
Suma grew up and completed her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) in Thakurgaon district in northwest Bangladesh.
When she decided to enroll in college to take a Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) a teacher suggested she take a vocational diploma course instead.
Suma had been under the impression that only students weak in their studies chose vocational training. Luckily for her, a teacher with more awareness of job opportunities suggested she rethink her decision.
He explained that many students opted for vocational diplomas after completing their HSCs when they found it difficult to find a job. He suggested that she not waste time with an HSC because there was more demand for skills and a diploma could open up opportunities for employment with salaries starting at 10,000-15,000 taka. Motivated by this advice, she decided to pursue a four-year diploma programme.
As a diploma student, Suma faced opposition from society. Her friends said she had made a poor decision and would be overqualified when she started looking for a spouse. Her aunts taunted her when she woke up for coaching at 5:30 am, perhaps because they felt slighted by her ambition. Her neighbors said women should take care of the family not spend time selfishly bettering themselves. But Suma’s immediate family was supportive, so she continued. At one point, her father asked her if she wanted to get married, but she explained, “If I get married after settling into a career, I may get a better proposal!” Though her father came from a very humble background, he had enough foresight to encourage all four of his children to educate themselves.
All my classmates are married. Many of them dropped out of school because of the lack of security. They were not allowed to go to big cities for career development and so they became a burden for their families and were married off. I am lucky that my family gave me their full support."
Suma now resides in a girl’s hostel provided by the company she works for. She says the diploma put her ahead of her batch mates, many of whom also went on to pursue diplomas after completing their HSCs when they could not find jobs. Through hard work and dedication, she was able to climb the ranks to reach the supervisory position she is at now. She contributes to her parents household expenses and is saving up for her own future. She is confident that when she does choose to marry, she will continue to nurture her own financial independence so that she is always treated as an equal by her spouse.
Over the past decade the Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated strong commitment to bringing women into the labour force. The National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) endorsed in 2012 recognizes the low participation rates of women in skills development and states that special efforts are necessary to correct this gender imbalance, particularly in the formal training system.
ILO’s Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) Project, funded by the Government of Canada, is working with the government to make skills in Bangladesh accessible to all. ILO is taking several measures such as promoting women‘s inclusion in “non-traditional” courses for better employment opportunities; social marketing and awareness raising; advocating for separate washrooms for women; and recruitment of female instructors wherever possible.
In order to increase girls’ participation in technical and vocational training programmes, efforts also need to involve families, society, training providers, employers and government. Ambitious policies and action plans that succeed in transforming gender norms and relationships in society are required to bring about gender equality in the workplace, to create opportunities for more women like Suma.
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