World Population Day 2018 draws attention to women’s rights to access family planning. Around 225 million women globally do not have safe and effective forms of family planning. Furthermore, a pregnancy—planned or unplanned—can have serious consequences for women workers in the garment industry.
The Tehran Proclamation states, ‘Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.’ According to the UNFPA, ‘expanding access to family planning would save tens of thousands of lives every year by preventing unintended pregnancies, reducing the number of abortions, and lowering the incidence of death and disability related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth.’ Research has shown that use of reliable contraception has a positive impact on the whole family, significantly increasing a woman’s earning power and narrowing the gender pay gap, thereby reducing poverty.
Discrimination in the garment industry
Women working in the garment industry unfortunately face numerous challenges related to childbirth. Discriminatory factories may ask women during a job interview if they are married or are planning to have children. Subsequently, they could decide to only hire unmarried women with no children or those who are willing to sign a document agreeing not to have children during their term of employment. The harassment that pregnant workers encounter in garment factories includes verbal abuse, requests to do hazardous tasks, and being assigned long working hours. In some cases, a woman’s contract will not be renewed, or she is fired, once her employer finds out she is pregnant.
Informed decision making around family planning is key. This includes knowledge regarding workers’ rights after birth. Minimal maternity protections and inadequate childcare options may be just a few of the factors female garment workers need to consider when deciding when, or if, to have children. In Bangladesh, only 5% of garment workers access maternity leave and a FWF survey of 600 female workers found that only a quarter of respondents were aware of basic maternity benefits, including paternity leave for fathers of newborns. Several countries from which FWF member brands source have a statutory requirement to provide daycares on-site when factories have a certain number of employees.
Education on family planning options and compliance with maternal health requirements—both pre-natal and post-natal—are key ways to protect the rights of female garment workers.