Overcoming societal norms, lack of education and the paralysing burden of poverty they’re building a better life.
Meet a group of women who’re freeing masonry — traditionally a male bastion — from the pincer grip of gender-based exclusion through sheer perseverance.
The pioneer of lady ‘mistris’ is Muli Bai, who learned the basics while working as a casual labourer at construction sites. Together with her husband, also a mason, she started taking up small jobs. All went well for a while but things began to fall apart after her husband suffered a paralytic stroke.
Realising that she lacked knowledge of certain technical aspects, she enrolled in training sessions organised by NGO Bhartiya Grameen Mahila Sangha (BGMS) for the Slum Environment and Sanitation Initiative (SESI).
“We needed construction workers so we decided to train women in order to provide them with a source of livelihood,” said Ashay Aren, capacity building officer, BGMS.
So impressed was the NGO with Muli Bai’s zeal that it decided to appoint her for construction of private latrines being built under SESI. She was also roped in to train others, including men, as masons.
Today, Muli Bai has graduated to taking independent contracts for renovation, plastering etc.
Then there’s Sangita Bhabor, another BGMS training session alumni who now works as a private contractor.
“I first built a demo toilet for Area Improvement Fund, one of the components of Project Uday — a water supply and environmental improvement programme,” she told HT.
“I later applied for and got the contract for building 160 toilets at Bhil Paltan, Moosakhedi (the locality where she lives),” reveals Bhabor. “When I started working as a beldar (unskilled labourers who carry material) we used to get Rs 90 as a day’s wages plus `10 for conveyance. Today, the rates have gone up substantially,” she added.
The money however, is much less than what a mason takes home. “The going rate for a ‘mistri is Rs 400 per day.” The hike appears impressive but there is a galling discrepancy. “Lady masons only get Rs 350,” says Bhabor.
Standing nearby, her neighbour Jodha Bai nods. She, too, worked as a mason until a few years ago when an injury forced her to stop.
“There are many others (masons) but it is very difficult to get hold of them during the day as they’re all at the sites,” said Bhabor. Regardless of the lady masons’ numbers, one thing is clear that each new addition to their ranks is another brick in the (falling) wall of gender-based exclusion.