Staff Correspondent: A recent report showed that the number of women workers in the country’s readymade garment (RMG) industry continued to decline and stood at 54% in 2021.
Caring for children was cited as the main reason for leaving the garment industry followed by pregnancy and discrimination for being pregnant, age appropriateness, difficulty in balancing work and home responsibilities and working conditions including harassment, violence, long working hours and low salaries.
The report, titled “The declining women workers in the Bangladesh RMG industry”, was the result of a research jointly conducted by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), GIZ and Brac University, funded by the Sustainable Textile Initiative: Together for Change (Stitch) and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
The report looked at entry into and exit from the RMG industry, the reasons both for entry and exit by women garment workers and the implications of these changes for women’s participation in the $42 billion RMG sector.
A total of 337 factories, 370 current women garment workers, 285 former women garment workers and 183 potential women workers were surveyed while nine focus groups with 89 participants and 16 key informant interviews with key stakeholders, including buyers and suppliers, were made.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), consistently from 1980 to 1994, reported that the proportion of women labour had been 80%.
However, in 1995, it fell to 76% and further fell to 70% in 2005.
According to separate UN Women reports, the proportion of women garment workers was 63.4% in 2010 and 60.5% in 2018.
A CPD (Center for Policy Dialogue) study found that the proportion fell to 58.4% and 53.2% in 2012 and 2016 respectively.
In 2017, however, Sanem reported that the proportion rose to 61.17%.
In contrast, the data published by Farole et al. show that the proportion rose by a smaller margin to 54%.
“In 2020, according to Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB), it was 58% while this project finds that the proportion of women garment workers was 53.65% in 2021,” according to the ETI report.
Among workers who left the RMG sector in 2021, 51% were women compared to 49% in 2015.
An overwhelming majority of the workers or 89% who left the sector responded that their departure was voluntary in that their contracts were not terminated by factory management.
Some 77% of reasons cited by the former workers were related to a family condition like caring for children (26.67%), pregnancy (17.89%), and age appropriateness (11.93%).
On the other hand, 19.29% of the reasons cited by former workers were related to working conditions such as workload, long working hours, and low salaries, according to the report.
Negative working conditions increase the probability of leaving garment factories by 15.95%, it showed.
Focus group participants, however, noted that factories put excess pressure on workers by requiring them to produce upwards of 180 to 200 units every hour.
According to the report, a worker can typically produce an output of 100 to 120 units in an average workday.
It found that 8% of all current women workers wanted to leave the RMG sector after one year and 27% after five years.
The report also found that upward mobility is extremely limited for women garment workers.
About 86% of workers joined the factory as helpers, 66% left as operators and only 1% as supervisors.
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