woman @ work
This week, in our woman @ work section, meet Sultana, an ordinary housemaid who after getting vocational training has managed to upgrade herself as a housekeeper. Find more about this courageous woman...
Sultana’s life changed suddenly for the worse, when her husband, aged 35, left her and their son with special needs, to marry another woman. Given an ultimatum by her parents - to either remarry or leave the family home - Sultana chose to be independent, moving out and finding work as a housekeeper at people’s homes.
According to Sultana, it was really hard to make ends meet. “I was earning about Rs. 5,000 a month by working at multiple houses as a part-time housekeeper. I had to take my infant son with me to work because I had nowhere to leave him. I faced a lot of difficulties because people in my neighbourhood would talk about me. Being a single woman in this society is not easy,” she shares.
When Sultana came across TAF Foundation’s Vocational Training Institute (TAFF-VTI) at one of their open-house sessions in her neighbourhood, she was eager to join the programme promising her job placement as a professional domestic helper after four months of training in cooking and housekeeping. TAF Foundation (TAFF), established in 2010 as a charitable organization for the less privileged, was restructured in 2015 into a broader philanthropic organization working for long-term socio-economic development. It has now established a demand-driven Vocational Training Institute (VTI) for the structured skills development of less privileged women, producing a much needed skilled workforce and creating sustainable livelihoods. While elaborating her thoughts on TAFF, Sultana states, “I am the sort of person who always tries to think positively. People tried to scare me as they didn’t know what TAFF-VTI was, but I knew I wanted to do this as it could change my life and it did,” says Sultana.
In March 2017, Sultana completed her training and since then she has been placed in a housekeeping job where she earns Rs. 30,000 a month - six times as much as she was earning before. “The training has transformed my life. I earn a decent living and can now make all decisions for myself. Most importantly, my training and my new job has given me independence,” she adds.
In the vast domestic help sector, women work as much as men if not more. Majority of this work though, is either unpaid or low-wage labour (household cleaning, cooking and childcare), and undocumented. According to Pew Research Centre analysis of labour force statistics from 114 nations with data from 2010 to 2016, women make up at least 40% of the workforce in more than 80 countries. Both India and Pakistan are sadly among the bottom 10 countries, with the female share of the workforce for Pakistan estimated to be a meagre 22.9 %. (The workforce consists of employed workers or those looking for work.)
To become active contributors to the economy, it is important for women to receive basic education or be trained with a skillset that has a market demand. There is an overwhelming demand for well-trained, groomed and reliable domestic helpers with structured skills in Pakistan, and many employers have taken to hiring trained staff from countries like Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal. These jobs can easily go to thousands of local women who are ready and willing but untrained to join the labour force. The foundation provides the necessary skills to underprivileged women and in the process, aims to institutionalize the domestic help industry in Pakistan. Sultana strongly feels that well-off households should support our own trained women by employing them, and by spreading awareness among their peers.
She asserts that the training has changed her significantly. “There is a world of difference in how I used to manage my housekeeping job and even my home before and how I do it now. I had no clue on how to make a bed. I didn’t even know how to use and maintain different types of housekeeping equipment. Before the training my employers would give me liquids and cleaners to use and I didn’t know what to use where. But now I can use them according to what I have been taught. After training, I have even changed the way I dress to go to the job.”
What makes TAFF uniquely different from other vocational institutes is that apart from providing training, it ensures placement for graduates in suitable jobs with higher compensation that suit their newly acquired training and skills.
Other than the vocational skills, the institute also educates women on financial empowerment, legal rights and soft skills focusing on professionalism, ethics and etiquettes. These supplementary skills have had a transformational impact on the women’s personal lives. Financial empowerment courses cover basic financial literacy in terms of saving techniques, investments and managing household budget. With her new higher salary, Sultana took a loan to buy her own house. “With my current salary, I can pay my loan on monthly instalments and comfortably pay my other bills, thanks to the financial awareness I have acquired. I also know now that whatever transaction you make or contract you sign, you must read it first. Even if I’m taking money, I keep a record and if I am giving money, I make sure to take a receipt even if it is via a bank. I document everything.” She plans on giving a portion of the house for rent for some additional income.
At the centre, students are also delivered lectures on legal empowerment to provide them with awareness of their rights as women, as citizens of Pakistan and as contractual employees considering both the constitution of Pakistan and Islamic jurisdiction. “I have learned that one should know their rights, and understand them in regard to every relationship - with your brother, husband or even your employer,” states Sultana.
When asked if she has a message for the women out there who might be struggling in similar situations, Sultana enunciates, “I believe women these days are much smarter and confident; women can do so much. There are things they can do that even men can’t do. If someone tells me, ‘Sultana! You must break a mountain’, I would go forward in doing so because I never get scared of challenges and that’s why I have made it here. I want to tell women that they should do what they want to do, while maintaining dignity and respect for themselves. So, go ahead and take that step, it may change your life.”