Fundraising pages set up to send Beth Barton on the trip
A job in construction helped Beth Barton to leave an abusive relationship, care for her infant son and rise out of poverty.
Now Barton is joining a delegation of American tradeswomen on a journey to India to help fight for the rights of women in the construction workforce both there and in the U.S.
In the United States, women make up only three percent of the construction industry. But in India, women make up 40 percent of construction workers, often doing the dirtiest, lowest-paying work. Women can be seen wearing colorful saris carrying baskets of building materials on their heads at major building projects.
Barton, president of Missouri Women in Trades (MoWIT), believes women construction workers in both countries can learn from and support each other in the fight for gender equity. Barton, a member of Carpenters Local 1596, is a superintendent at Tarlton Corporation.
“Construction has been a wonderful opportunity that has enriched every part of my life, but it has also been one of the biggest challenges of my life to succeed in the trades,” Barton said. “Women around the world have the right to good-paying and stable jobs in construction, and I want to support them in making that happen.”
Barton will travel to India in January with a group of tradeswomen led by Fulbright recipient Susan Moir, Ph.D., director of research for the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Moir worked in the blue collar industry for 20 years before shifting to policy and advocacy. For the past eight years, she has helped lead the Boston Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues, which wants to see women as 20 percent of the construction workforce by 2020.
The U.S. tradeswomen delegation will meet with Indian union leaders, organizers and construction workers on the two-week trip. The goal is to build networks that set the stage for an international network by and for tradeswomen. U.S. participants also hope to gain experiences that will help women enter into the construction trades back home.
The trip will build on work Barton has been doing for the past decade to support women in construction. Since 2008, she has been president of MoWIT, which works to promote and support women in the building trades in the greater St. Louis area. The St. Louis Construction Forum gave Barton its Workforce Development Award in October.
“I never would have survived without the support of other tradeswomen mentoring me," Barton said. “Construction helped me to get out of a desperate situation, and I want to help other women do the same.”
India has the largest concentration of women working in the construction industry in the world, according to Moir’s Fulbright proposal, but they are often subject to dangerous and desperate working conditions. This is in sharp contrast to the systematic exclusion of women from good-paying jobs in the construction trades in Western economies.
The itinerary for the trip includes meeting with groups and touring construction sites in Dehli, Mumbai and Chennai. The delegation will be welcomed by national and local labor leaders at a conference sponsored at the V.V. Giri Labour Institute, and they will also participate in events at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences.
Then delegation will also meet with internationally known labor leader Geetha Ramakrishnan of the Unorganised Workers' Federation. Sister Geetha has been organizing women construction workers in India for more than 40 years.