Komal, 19, lives with her family in a slum resettlement in Delhi. She recently graduated from Plan India’s Saksham programme which provides young people with skills training and connects them with jobs.
Now she works at a fast food chain. “My training at Saksham prepared me for the world of work and when I got the job I felt my dream to work in a decent place had come true,” says Komal. “I work very hard. During peak hours it can get quite tiring but I love the feeling of working with other girls and boys.”
However, it is unusual for women to go out to work in India. Of the 35 million young women aged 15-24 in India’s urban areas, only 9% are in formal jobs.
Expectations for women
As a result, it was a big decision for her parents to let Komal go to work. Her father Vijay, a manual labourer, says: “I came under tremendous pressure from my relatives and the community for letting Komal get a job. But I wanted to stand by my daughter.
I’ve got a golden chance to create my own future. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I missed the opportunity to get an education which I’ve regretted all my life. I learned to work on the job but lost out on several opportunities to progress as I had no formal qualifications. I only earn about 350 Indian Rupees (€5) a day when I can find work.
“When I saw women in higher positions, I dreamt of my own daughters becoming professionals. That’s why when Komal said she wanted to enrol with the Saksham programme, I was happy for her to proceed.
“I feel very happy to see that Komal is earning a decent salary and continuing her higher education. I trust my daughter and feel part of her success no matter what people say.
“It’s not easy in our society for parents to send their daughters to work. It’s particularly hard for me as it’s traditionally a man’s role. We are regularly reminded to get Komal married but I have assured her that it won’t happen unless she is ready. I want her to be successful.”
Girls’ safety causes concerns
Komal’s mother Malti also faces regular pressure from neighbours. She says “For most parents of girls, safety is always a concern. Neighbours have made comments that my daughter gets home late so I often accompany Komal to the metro station. We don’t want to give people any reason to gossip.
“Komal has become very confident. She has even been out on group outings with her colleagues. I feel so happy to see her blossom.”
Komal is aware of the lengths to which her parents have gone against social pressures to support her dreams. She says: “I want to make my parents proud. I know the efforts they’ve made.
“I always dreamt of having my own money. It felt great when I got my first salary. I treated myself to a new smartphone. Now I can buy things, treat my parents and siblings and support my father to run the household.
“In the last year I have saved up enough to pay for my education. I want to graduate and progress in the retail sector. I do not want to marry for a few years and would like to concentrate on my career. I know I’ve got a golden chance to create my own future. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”