Friday, July 10, 2009

Vocational training to empower Yemeni women

Being an electric engineer was not enough for Rina. She furthered her profession by studying photography until she became a teacher of videography at the Technical and Industrial Institute in Al Mu'alla, Aden.
“This specialization is new in our centre, the curriculum is good, it suits market demand and I strongly believe there are a lot of job opportunities out there for girls who want to be photographers,” she said.
Rina is among few young Yemeni women who enrolled in specializations traditionally associated to men, such as desk top publishing, computer programming and construction.
Society is still not aware that these new fields of study are most needed in the labor market. Fathers and mothers are still holding onto the idea that their daughters should guarantee themselves a good future by going to universities, even though realistically there are a lot of university graduates who don’t have the labour market relevant skills."
"They blame the government for not creating jobs, they don't think that their sons or daughters would have found a job had they studied in another field of education or training,” she explained, referring to the misconception that most Yemenis have of vocational training or technical education.
"The main issue with technical Education and vocational training is considered as a manual labor and heavy work which is physically exhausting and with low income. That is what vocational training means in the mind of majority of people in Yemen,"
Very few Yemeni women are currently enrolled in technical centers focusing on industrial training such as carpentry, electricity, and construction.
Instead, they enroll for training at centers that offer more traditionally women-orientated skills such as sewing, embroidery, handicrafts and hairdressing. But this niche is already oversaturated, and has limited returns in terms of women participating in income-generating activities.
A few women such as Rina have gone forward and signed up for training in non-traditional specializations. In the academic year 2008-2009,more young women signed up for courses in institutes across Yemen, according to the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training.
In order of preference, they chose courses in computer programming, office management; accounting, early childcare, marketing, management, photography, desk top publishing, interior design, PC maintenance, telecom engineering, engineering construction and building construction, according to the ministry's administrative records.
According to the Department of Women Workers at the Ministry of TEVT that collected the data, participation in these traditionally male-dominated specializations ranged from 256 of women enrolments in computer programming down to just three enrolments in construction.
A situation analysis on young women in TVET centres in Yemen, conduced jointly by ILO and MoTEVT showed that women mostly enroll in technical training in the governorates of Aden, Hadramout, Hodeida, Taiz, Ibb, Dhamar, and Sana’a, with the highest and most diversified participation found in the governorate of Taiz.
The same analysis noted that despite Sana’a being the capital, women from the governorate traditionally enroll in the same vocational training courses. The highest rate of female enrolment were recorded in commercial institutes for courses in secretarial, administration and accounting, or traditional skills such as sewing, ceramics, and hairdressing.
An increased and diversified participation is noticed in community colleges in courses such as information technology, graphic design and internet technology.
And despite its past historical experience of women entering into non-traditional fields such as carpentry, electrics, and mechanics during its socialist period, Aden now resembles Sana’a when it comes to women’s participation in the vocational training and technical education sector.
Limited female enrolment
Despite women's participation in the sector having increased from 5 to about 13 percent between 2003 and 2007 according to the government, the proportion of young women in this type of educational system remains limited.
A recent policy brief issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed that young Yemeni women are more disadvantaged than their male counterparts in breaking into employment.
Female employment in Yemen has been bound by a number of factors that include low educational levels, early marriage, high fertility rates and negative cultural perceptions associated with "women workers," noted the policy brief.
The ILO argues that improving access to vocational training will supply young Yemeni women with more labour market relevant skills find employment, and give them opportunities beside informal employment which they often fall into because they are under-qualified.
A hole in the market
Yemen’s population has doubled in size since 1990 and with an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent , it is set to almost double by 2025. Close to 190,000 young people enter the labor market each year, a figure which significantly outpaces labor demand.
Yemen's predominantly young population is increasingly more vulnerable to unemployment. However, unemployment was higher among persons with higher education than among those with basic and primary education, according to the 2004 Population Housing and Establishment Census.
Up to 75 percent of the unemployed were first time job seekers, said the census. Unemployment of young women is also much higher among those with higher education.
The limited ability of the formal education system to prepare young people for the labor market is leading to a chronic ‘skills shortage’ in Yemen, according to the ILO.
Specific skills lacking in Yemen mentioned by business leaders in Yemen were leadership and management skills, followed by insufficiency in foreign languages, lack of computer skills and sufficient knowledge in the use of office equipment.
Yet against this background, technical education and vocational training in Yemen, a sector with the critical role of delivering skilled youth to the labour market, absorbs only 0.2 percent of the bulging young population in Yemen.
There are currently 67 operational centers across Yemen and 219 private institutes that are licensed by the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training.
Outside the formal technical education and vocational training system, there are also a significant number of non governmental organizations that target specific types of youth groups, i.e. young women, rural youth, and recent graduates, mostly focusing on providing life skills, such as leadership and networking skills, civic engagement, and youth leadership.
'Second-rate education'
Despite the labour market relevance of vocation being offered in all these centers, a socio-cultural bias against technical education and vocational training persists in Yemen. The dominant stereotype is that the institutions in this sector associated with ‘drop-outs’ providing a and an ‘second-class’ education
The policy brief of the ILO also noted that the Yemeni technical education and vocational training system is mostly supply and not sufficiently, demand, driven. It does NOT have enough linkages to the private sector, and almost no linkages with employment offices or with the secondary school systems.
This is consistent with the perception in Yemen -especially amidst the private sector and the business community- that the formal technical education and vocational training system needs to produce higher quality graduates with more relevance skills to labor market needs.
The ILO policy brief outlined the lack of systematic monitoring to trace the progress of young technical education or vocational training graduates, as well as reliable statistics on the performance of these or labor market demand.
Obstacles to breaking in
"When I take the bus and I am asked by a woman next to me what I do, and tell them I study at the Hotel and Tourism Institute, she becomes cold and distant,” said Nawal, who studies at the National Hotel and Tourism Institute (NAHOTI) in Sana’a.
As in Nawal's case, the challenge for women studying in areas such us tourism, in the technical education and vocational training institions is the negative perceptions associated with it in general, and specific misconceptions about women entering these particular sectors.
"In comparison to their male counterparts, young women in Yemen are doubly disadvantaged in entering this sector due to the traditional perception that technical education and vocational training provides second class education, and a system that is dominated by men," reported the ILO.
The ILO however dismisses cultural hindrances as the most important factor behind lack of women's enrolment, rather stressing the need to raise awareness about the relevance of vocational skills in finding employment.
"In comparison to men, women are generally more restricted to the private sphere and have therefore less of a chance to know about vocational training opportunities,” said its report, however noting that limited capacity in most technical education and vocational training institutions meant that awareness campaigns for young women and their families were not common.
The study further noted that mixed classes in mixed vocational and technical institutes where the majority of students are young men such as industrial institutes are clearly inhibiting the entry of young women, and small adjustments like introducing women only courses in mixed institutes may ease the entrance of these young women into these courses.
Handicrafts not lucrative
Especially in rural areas, young women from poorer backgrounds with traditionally feminine specializations, such as sewing, embroidery, and handicrafts, generate less income, said the report.
According Dr. Salwa Al-Moayyad, one of the authors of the study, with increasing levels of poverty in Yemen, more women are entering these centers in order to provide additional income. However, the basic skills training, they receive are often not enough to master a trade. The products are often of low quality and no connections to the market.
Despite the reality, many women continue to favor these types of skills because the work can be conducted from home, a plus for women with stricter mobility restrictions as, for example, specifically poorer women from urban areas.
As employment offices in Yemen are structurally weak with little linkage with either the technical education and vocational training system or the private sector, the majority of hiring in Yemen is done through personal networking, said Maha Ghaleb, the director of General for the Directorate General for Working Women
This method of job search has a negative repercussion on young women who are mostly restricted to the private sphere, without access to such networks
Women therefore find it tough to break into the labor market following their training and often end up working either teachers in other traditional skill center NGO where salaries are very low, or setting up small businesses where income is little due to lack of knowledge on project management and market access.
Revamping the sector
The situation analysis recommended the improving the image of technical education and vocational training to encourage the enrolment of more young women in its classes.
It suggested that government launch a media campaign featuring both young men and women graduates, with the latter not only sewing and embroidering as would be expected of them, but also working in less traditional fields such as multimedia desk top publishing.
It recommended the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training follow the campaign up by ensuring its website also represent women beside men as successful agents of the new skills acquired. This would mean women, for instance, handling electronic equipments , instead of sitting at desks.
Ms. Lara Uhlenhaut, a co-author of the situation analysis noted that MoTEVT could launch a comprehensive secondary school awareness campaign to reach not only young girls, but also their parents, and introducing non-mixed classes in industrial institutes where are the a majority of students are men
Curricula should be strengthened with training in life skills, such as leadership, negotiation, initiative, confidence and applying for jobs, as well as basic guidelines in how to start up an independent business. These packages can also be adapted and specifically target traditional centers with women from poorer backgrounds, she said.
Dr. Simel Esim, a senior technical specialist with ILO said that progress should be tracked using gender responsive monitoring and evaluation system in the sector, it added.
The International Labor Organization is recommendations also included strengthening coordination between the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training and organizations promoting women’s employment, including Trade unions and chambers of commerce as well as the Business Women Committee, the National Woman Committee, the Directorate General of Women Workers at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Productive Family Centre at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Government efforts
The Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training has already reduced fees for women in order to attract more women in technical education and vocational training. It has also established the Department of Women and Qualitative Training that is in charge of addressing women, the disabled and the socially marginalized.
However, this step has been seen as an approach tends to further marginalize and exclude women by treating them as separate targets, as opposed to equal beneficiaries as young men.
Moreover, efforts have been made by the ministry and the donor community to identify niches and offer attractive courses where women can tap into. Two such courses were identified by the EU, photography and desk-top publishing, a successful initiative that is both relevant to the labor market and suitable to Yemeni social norms.
Since 2004, the ministry is striving to implement strategic plan that is expected to shift the sector to cater to the labor market's demand, and improve equity in access to technical education and vocational training opportunities.
The plan calls for more courses, development of linkages with the labor market, management decentralization, and improving training centers’ responsiveness to employment demand.
Increased participation of women in the system is also stressed in the plan, although to date there is no specific baseline or target for women’s participation and no cross - cutting policy adopting a ‘gender equality perspective’ for equal representation of women and men in the sector.
The strategy’s focus is rather on targeting women in the training sector as a separate targeted group along with school drop outs, people with disabilities, and those seeking to establish micro-enterprises.
"Even if woman wants to develop [her skills], there still needs to be help and support from surrounding society" said Filistin, a trainee at the National and Tourism institute.
"Slowly, I believe there can be a change in Yemen, when it comes to women's advancement," she said. "Change will be a balance between gradual societal change and women's own will for self development … it needs time."

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