BANGLADESH GARMENT WORKERS: A CUT ABOVE THE REST

Millions of women in developing countries work in the garment industry, sewing clothes which are exported the world over. But the better paid jobs are often the preserve of men. The International Labour Organization promotes rights in the workplace and an end to sex discrimination. ILO TV now reports from a factory in Bangladesh where women are proving they, too, can be a cut above the rest.

Date issued: 22 April 2004 | Size/duration: 00:02:49 (6.82 MB)

Millions of women in developing countries work in the garment industry, sewing clothes which are exported the world over. But the better paid jobs are often the preserve of men. The International Labour Organization promotes rights in the workplace and an end to sex discrimination. ILO TV now reports from a factory in Bangladesh where women are proving they, too, can be a cut above the rest.

Women make up more than 80 per cent of the workforce in Bangladeshi garment factories. They do skilled jobs, but as in other countries, the MOST skilled, best-paid, positions, are mainly held by male employees. Cutters, for example, are nearly always men.

But in this factory in Mirpur, women are starting to enter this male-dominated field. The Babylon Garments factory has trained Kulsum Begum to use the highly specialized cutting machinery.

Kulsum Begum

When I started this work here, everyone rebuked me, ridiculed me and said that this was the job of men. That it is not possible for women to do it, just not possible. Then I was determined, as a result of which now I’m a cutting-man.

While in the West, ironing often used to be considered women’s work, in many countries it’s well-paid and seen as the province of men. Some male workers were surprised to see how easily women adapted to the work.

Mohammad Bijoy says that when women first came to this line of work, it seemed that they wouldn’t be able to do the job, but now we see that they work hard, they work alongside the men.

In this factory, the management sees advantages in training women and men to do the best-paid jobs.

Emdadul Islam, Managing Director, Babylon Garments

In a different way, female workers could be even more efficient than the male workers because male workers in general have a tendency to take a lot of time off, but female workers are very persistent.

Once they’ve got a good job, women are less likely to leave the company. Babylon and about 200 other factories in Bangladesh have been working with the ILO to improve working conditions and promote rights in the workplace. Managers are sent on training courses which include sessions on gender and productivity.

The owners have set up a nursery for workers’children, which has proved very popular. And they offer employees free medical treatment and health care on the premises. The management is convinced that the family-friendly facilities pay off.

Emdadul Islam, Managing Director, Babylon Garments

All the indications are here that we have a better working environment. We have far far better attendance, very, very less absenteeism.

Bangladesh depends on the garment industry for more than three quarters of its export earnings. Some manufacturers are finding that it pays to value women at work.