In 1995, my friend and research partner, carpenter Liz Skidmore, came back from the UN Conference on Women in Beijing and told me an amazing story. In a workshop for tradeswomen that Liz and Connie Ashbrook (elevator constructor and Director of Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc) had organized, the women from western economies began the very familiar refrain of exclusion from good paying jobs in the construction trades. To their great surprise, women from developing economies said that they were well represented among workers in construction but that the jobs were lousy. Former electrician and now Professor Vivian Price was also there and she summarized this revelation as women in the global north are told we are not strong enough to do this work and women in the south are told we are not smart enough to do the skilled work. Liz has recently said that, wherever we are, women are told the story that will keep us in our place.
I have been doing research on women in the US construction industry for almost 25 years. For the past 20 years, I have been thinking about the global contradiction that was exposed by the tradeswomen in the Beijing workshop. I have been especially following the stories of women working in construction in India because the industry is huge and women make up as much as half of the workers. In 2014, I made the decision to apply for a Fulbright grant to go to India to see the other side of the problems of women working in the construction industry. My proposal to Fulbright, “Building bridges: A comparative study of women working in the construction industry in India and the US,” was accepted. I will be going to India on January 15, 2016. My plan is to travel around the country and meet with women workers, women’s and labor organizations and academics. I will learn so much and this blog is where I will share what I learn with a larger audience.