Women in India’s Construction Industry

In India, the construction industry is the second largest and a fast growing sector. Transnational companies have been competing in the construction industry since the mid-1990s, engaging in both large public-sector infrastructure projects and private sector industrial projects (Jhabvala and Kanbur 2002).

India’s construction labour force is estimated at 30 million people; about half are women. There has been a reduction of demand for unskilled labor since mid-1990s; one estimate suggests 1.5 million jobs are lost per year (Jhabvala and Kanbur 2002).

Women in Construction in India

  • Women account for half (51%) of the total construction labour force.
  • Women workers are almost exclusively unskilled, casual, manual laborers:
    • carrying bricks, cement, sand, and water
    • digging earth, mixing cement, breaking stones
  • Women are rarely found in male-dominated skilled trades: carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical wiring (Jhabvala and Kanbur 2002).

Construction Industry: Ahmedabad, India
(1998 and 2003)

  1998 2003
Percentage of skilled workers

24%

39%

Workers at two largest recruitment corners

200 per day

500-1,000 per day

Days of work – women

16 per month

11 per month

Wages - skilled workers

 

30-50 % increase in real terms

Wages – unskilled workers

 

same or slight decrease in real terms

Source: SEWA Academy 2005

Organizing and Supporting Women Construction Workers:

The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is the largest trade union in India: its members are all working poor women in the informal economy. SEWA has been working to secure the following benefits for women who work in the construction industry:

  • identification cards
  • state-level implementation of Construction Workers Protection and Welfare Act (1996)
  • accident insurance scheme
  • child care creches at construction sites
  • skills training and job placement

In 2003, to respond to need for skills training for construction workers, SEWA opened the Karmika School for Construction Workers. Its goal is to provide skills training for various trades in the construction industry to all workers, with a focus on women workers. In the first three years, 5,000 people were trained in relevant, basic functional literacy. Vocational support, refresher courses and testing and certification are also offered at the school.

Several lessons have been learned through this ongoing endeavour:

  • Skills training needs to be targeted to:
    • those already employed + those entering labour market
    • those who have little or no formal education
    • women in these groups + women in non-traditional skill areas
  • Targeted training requires:
    • inclusive eligibility requirements
    • preferential recruitment
    • special training modules/material
  • Skills training needs to be sector-specific and future-oriented, involving
    • new technologies + skills within existing trades
    • new trades and opportunities
    • an accompanying job placement strateg
  • Comprehensive and inclusive skills training and job placement requires:
    • innovative institutional arrangements: public-private sector-civil society partnerships
    • supportive policies and regulations