Four months ago, Kala Kshetry was just a home-maker. She spent most of her time cooking, doing the dishes, washing clothes, and taking care of her family.
Today, Kala works as a general technician for Khidmah LLC, a private company based in Abu Dhabi. Her days now are spent fixing ACs and general home appliances for a girls’ school.
“I was being interviewed for the chief cleaner’s post. But the interviewer asked me if I was interested in working as a technician,” she added. “Of course, I declined it at first.” Such works, she used to believe, were “unsuitable” for women.
Kala finally agreed to give it a try after learning about the added benefits. She underwent a rigorous training at a CTEVT centre in Kathmandu for a month. The training was supported by Aasha H4 Foundation, an organisation that works with women migrants.
Her hard work and focus would pay off. In March, she was shortlisted for the position with 19 other women. They would become the first group of women technicians to pursue employment in the middle-east.
Kala is part of a new wave of Nepali women who are pushing the envelope and are seeking employment in mostly-male dominated sectors other than domestic help--where they are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.
More than 90 percent of 13,000 women going aboard in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year had taken up jobs other than domestic help, according to data compiled by the Department of Foreign Employment. Today, a majority of Nepali women are primarily seeking employment in manufacturing, retail, hospitality and service sectors.
Rosie Rai, 31, initially wanted to be a journalist. But after receiving a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008, she decided to choose a career in interior design. She started off as an assistant to an architect designer for a private firm in Dubai. Today, Rai works as an interior design consultant for Furniture Practice, a firm providing complete furnishing solution and designing based in Dubai. She had worked for two different companies earlier.
“It’s a very competitive market where people are judged for their capacity rather than origin or nationality,” said Rai, a resident of Belbari in Morang. Encouraged by her professional success and future prospects, Rai recently enrolled at a private university in Dubai for a master’s in interior design.
Of late, a growing number of Nepali women have been taking jobs in the formal sector across the Gulf and in countries like Malaysia. It is a major paradigm shift from the days when Nepali women largely migrated abroad as household workers.
“My skills are going to be useful even when I return to Nepal. I can easily make a living as long as I have a skill and the required experience,” says Sabina Ghimire, who is also a female technician at the company where Kala works.
Both Sabina and Kala earn around Rs54,000, which is a decent pay for a trainee worker. The company also provides her with accommodation, food, transportation and telephone facilities.
Women employed in the industrial and service sectors work in a relatively open environment. This makes it easier for Nepali diplomatic missions to oversee their general well-being and extend required assistance during contingencies.
Missions in the Gulf often struggle to trace Nepali women doing domestic jobs as a majority of them use illegal channels to reach there.
Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, believes that domestic work makes “women particularly vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological abuses as they have to work in private homes”.
Officials at Nepali missions in the Gulf also admit that female domestic workers are more vulnerable to exploitation than industrial workers. Nepali embassies in the Gulf had rescued and repatriated more than 3,000 women since 2012 after they fell prey to abuse and exploitation.
“In most cases, the embassy had to send them back seeking assistance from Non-Resident Nepali Associations or from the support provided by the Foreign Employment Promotion Board. It is extremely hard to provide compensation, let alone justice,” said Uday Raj Pandey, former Nepali ambassador to Saudi Arabia.