I wasn’t planning on writing anything for International Women’s Day. In fact, until my colleague said something this morning, I wasn’t even aware that it was today. As I have been for many days recently, I was largely preoccupied with my masters thesis and how behind I am (reminder: I am a part of Peace Corps’ Masters International program and will hopefully complete my degree in Public and International Affairs in the upcoming fall semester).
Fast forward to this afternoon. I went out to print some pictures and when I came back I ran into one of my former welding classmates, Ju.
Ju is on the far right. Solid guy and the best welder in our class.
Ju used the preferential points his completion of evening short courses conferred to him for long-term enrollment and is currently training in the Joinery and Cabinet Making (JCM) trade’s afternoon session. Because he loved welding so much, and because the two trades seem wonderfully complementary to me, I figured he must be enjoying his new classes. Much to my surprise, when I asked him how he was liking the new gig he replied:
No man, I don’t want to be doing women’s work.
And thus the reason I decided to write a post for International Women’s Day!
You see (if you’ve seen an uptick in my use of this phrase’s, it’s because it is used ALL THE TIME in Oshiwambo…”ou wete, neeee”), when I asked him why he felt that way about JCM Ju said, “There are so many ladies there. And a lot of measuring.” Which interestingly enough is one of the reasons why I love our schools JCM workshop SO MUCH.
The JCM workshop at Valombola VTC is overseen by a team of three trainers, two of whom are female (pictured below). Meme Lavinia Uupindi (right) was the FIRST female graduate of the school. To me she is legendary–the queen of Valombola! Side note: they are posing with a board my fellow PCV Daniel wants cut in the workshop. He is making a Namibian version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan and diligently measured out all the pieces we need to do it.
As I feel my body succumbing to the afternoon heat and my brain suggesting a tea break, let me jump mental train tracks and take the chance to write about how this involves my masters thesis. Although I am seriously behind, I have picked a topic and decided to investigate how gender influences vocational education and training (VET) outputs (i.e. number of male/female trainees in the various trades) and labor market outcomes (i.e. differential wages, terms of employment, opportunities for self-employment, and participation in the formal or informal sectors).
Linked with adequate employment opportunities, VET can assist people in expanding their skills, raising their productivity and increasing their personal incomes, thereby leading to overall raised living standards and stronger, more competitive economies (UNESCO, 2008).
This quote reflects why policy makers, at least in sub-Saharan Africa, are increasingly paying attention to the role VET should play in combatting unemployment and poverty. In the newly adopted sustainable development goals (SDGs), three of the education sub-targets involve VET (4.3-4.5). But the education attainment piece is only one part of the puzzle. VET is also being recognized as a big part of goal 8, the “[promotion of] sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/). The interdependence of these two components is a key strategic focus in the international development arena moving forward.
But back to women. Despite sub-targets involving gender equity in both the education and economic goals, a lack of attention is paid to the role gender plays in mediating the “school-to-work” transition. Meaning, the Ministry of Education will continue to promote gender parity in VET enrollment numbers, but what happens to our male and female trainees once they graduate? Occupational segregation exists in Namibia, as it does around the world. Does the Ministry of Trade and Industry seek counsel from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare on how to properly recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work?
Further, why does UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for VET, not include SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” as an equally important interdependence to account for in their 2016-2020 strategic plan? Despite the fact that my school has an impressive number of female trainees enrolled in our plumbing and pipefitting trade, I suspect there are not many plumbing and pipefitting companies owned by our female trainees after they graduate…
And so I want to take the oft-used investigative lens of gender and apply it to the under-studied context of vocational training and its consequential employment prospects. I’m happy because this aligns well with one of the last projects I will be working on before I leave Namibia: implementing tracer studies of the graduates of Valombola VTC.
Oh, and a final note to end on. I was further perplexed how Ju could possibly feel the way he did about joinery as a craft/trade because I watched this video on my lunch break: The Birth of a Wooden House. Out of this world.