The vast majority of the millions of garment workers in south and southeast Asia are women. Most are young, often teenagers and the first generation of women to work outside the home. Their jobs should, and have the possibility to, provide a path to decent work and a better life.
But research shows that these women face widespread gender-based discrimination and high levels of gender-based violence or sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as on transport to and from work.
The root causes of discrimination against women, and the pathways to improvement, are influenced by complex social and economic dynamics. Gender-based violence is an extreme manifestation of widespread gender-based discrimination in other areas such as wages and conditions of work (think Rana Plaza). FWF’s research finds strong correlations between job categories where women work and lower wages. Discrimination also manifests in insecure and precarious contracts, excessive hours and lack of childcare or maternity protection. Gender-based violence and harassment in in the workplace reinforces this gender discrimination.
Wage improvements in the apparel industry are only sustainable if decent conditions and wage discrimination are addressed at the same time. Similarly, social dialogue can only be successful when women play an active role in the bargaining process and ‘women’s issues’ are included in the agenda for dialogue at all levels.
Jo Morris is Visiting Professor in Practice, London School of Economics and Political Science, Gender Institute. She is FWF’s gender expert.