1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Women's Employment in the Textile Manufacturing Sectors of Bangladesh and Morocco

Chapter 5: Becoming a garment worker: The mobilization of women into the garment factories of Bangladesh, by Nazli Kibria

In Bangladesh, relatively low rates of women’s participation in wage employment have traditionally been understood as a reflection of cultural factors unfavourable to such participation. Recent developments, however, challenge the notion that women in Bangladesh, whether due to cultural or other factors, are disinclined to enter the wage labour market. Since the 1980s, an export-based garment industry has mushroomed in Bangladesh. Perhaps the most notable feature of this industry is its heavy use of women workers; an estimated 70-80 per cent of those employed in the industry are women.

The rapid development of the garment sector, along with its mobilization of women workers, has made it a popular issue of concern among a wide variety of groups in Bangladesh, including policy makers, activists and scholars. Despite this attention, many basic questions about the industry’s workers remain unanswered, hampering the effective assessment of the impact of macro policies on the sector. This chapter looks at the factors and processes that underlie the mobilization of women into the garment labour force. How and why do women come to seek and enter into jobs in garment factories? The materials for this chapter are drawn from a qualitative study, based on 70 in-depth interviews with women garment workers and members of their households, in Dhaka and various rural parts of Bangladesh.

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