The curious case of declining women workers in apparel sector

by Apparel Resources

09-October-2019  |  4 mins read

Women Garment Workers Bangladesh
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Once considered the mainstay of the workforce of the readymade garment manufacturing (RMG) sector of Bangladesh (accounting for around 80 per cent), women workers are on the decline lately!

As per two separate surveys conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the number of female workers in the RMG sector of the country has declined by 10.68 per cent in the span of 4 years, though the number of factories and workers are on the rise. This declining trend has also been highlighted by other surveys as well.

The 2013 BBS survey found the percentage of male workers in the RMG sector to be 43.14 per cent, while the female workers accounted for 56.86 per cent. However, the latest BBS survey underlined that 53.82 per cent male workers are now engaged in this sector, while the number of female workers has fallen to 46.18 per cent.

The surveys found a host of reasons for the declining number of the women workers with lack of training facilities, skill and proper knowledge of technology being the major reasons behind this downfall. The recent increase in the minimum wage, the surveys highlighted, has also a lot to do with this trend as male workers are taking active interests in the sector due to increased salary.

As per some economists, women were the major workforce in the country’s apparel sector since it started its journey in 1970s. However, their participation started to decline in the 1990s after the arrival of knitwear, they underlined.

“The percentage of female workers is declining, which is worrying,” opined Naznin Ahmed, Senior Researcher with the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).

It may be mentioned here that Naznin with the help of International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN Women conducted a survey in 28 garment factories in 2018, which showed the participation rate of women workers in the sector to be 60 per cent.

This rate was 63 per cent in 2010.

A separate survey conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) also found similar trend. According to the CPD survey data, the rate of female workers in the garment sector was 53.2 per cent in 2016, while it was 58.4 per cent in 2012.

“…it is becoming difficult for new women to get involved in this sector due to its labour-intensive nature of work. Women are quitting their jobs to take care of their children. Without initiatives taken at the public-private level to make women skilled, it will be difficult for them to sustain in this profession,” maintained CPD Research Director Khandaker Golam Moazzem speaking to the media, who further underlined that women are lagging behind men when it comes to institutional education and men become skilled through different types of training as compared to women.

With the demand for skilled workers increasing in the sector, experts are of the opinion that the decline of the women workforce in this sector can only be arrested by organising training and skill development initiatives by public and private organisations.

“Due to changing technology, women have no opportunity to rule the readymade garments sector by utilising sewing skill only. They need to be skilled to sustain,” stated Pratima Pal Majumder, a prominent economist and former Senior Director of BIDS.

As per industry insiders, in general, 6 types of works are done in the garment sector – sewing, finishing, cutting, embroidery, knitting and washing with women workers predominantly engaged in sewing and finishing.

However, given the current trend of dwindling women workers in the industry, many within the sector are a worried lot.

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