Women workforce declining in RMG sector

Readymade garments workers. Prothom Alo File Photo
Readymade garments workers. Prothom Alo File Photo

The number of female workers in readymade garments (RMG) sector has declined by 10.68 per cent in the span of four years though the number of factories and workers are on the rise, reveal two separate surveys conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

The latest BBS survey says 53.82 per cent male workers occupy jobs in the sector while the number of female workers is only 46.18 per cent. The sector began its journey based on the workforce of women, though.

Surveys by several other organisations also found the same.

Lack of training facilities, skill and proper knowledge of technology are the main reasons for female workers to lag behind in the sector, the surveys reveal.

Besides, male workers are taking more interests in the sector due to increasing wages.

The tapering off of the number of female workers can be stopped only by organising training and skill development works, both by public and private organisations, the experts said.

Over 3.31 million people are, at present, working in this sector. Majority of them are labourers.

Earlier in 2013, the BBS survey found the percentage of male workers in the RMG sector 43.14 while the female workers 56.86 per cent. The total workers in this sector were 2.99 million at the time.

Economist and former senior director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Pratima Pal Majumder, told Prothom Alo, “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.”

Comparison between the findings of two BBS surveys also revealed that the average growth rate of employment of male workers in the RMG sector has increased 11.54 per cent between 2013 and 2016-2017. On the other hand, the rate of employment for women has decreased by 6.56 per cent.

Similar trends in government and other organisations’ surveys

Economists say, women were the main workforce in the country's apparel sector since it begun its journey in 1970’s. Their participation started to decline in the 1990’s after knitwear had come into sector.

BIDS’ senior researcher Naznin Ahmed with the help of International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN Women conducted a survey in 28 garment factories in the country in 2018.

It showed that the participation rate of women workers in the sector was 60 per cent. The rate was 63 per cent in 2010. The latest survey result will be released in this September.

“The rate of female workers is declining, which is worrying,” Naznin Ahmed told Prothom Alo.

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

Why this decrease?

This situation is being created in the sector due to increasing use of technology, lack of skills of women workers compared to males, increasing interest of men for salary rise, social inequalities and due to its labour-intensive nature.

Even the average age of women working in this sector is lower than that of men, said researchers, workers, managers and owners of RMG factories.

The findings suggest that the use of modern machines has increased in the textile industry for over a decade. These instruments can perform many types of tasks simultaneously.

The tasks that women workers used to do in the past are now done through the machines. An assistant, mainly done by women, was required to cut the yarn from two machines. Machines do the work now.

On the other hand, more male workers are joining in the garment sector due to the constant increase in salary.

Women lag behind in education and skills

Women are lagging behind men when it comes to institutional education. Men become skilled through different types of training when women remain busy in family and children-related affairs.

CPD research director Khandaker Golam Moazzem said the demand for skilled workers is increasing.

“Besides, it is becoming difficult for new women to get involved in this (RMG) 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,” said Golam Moazzem.

CPD research, however, said that a woman worker cannot work more than seven years on average. A number of experts and people involved with the sector said a large section of women workers quit jobs after having a child.

Limited sectors to work in

In general, six types of works are done in the garment sector -- sewing, finishing, cutting, embroidery, knitting and washing. Women mostly work in sewing and finishing sectors. Their participation in other sectors is very low.

However, women work mainly as labourers. Very few of them work in the management level. The traditional view of the owners is responsible for not engaging women in these tasks, the experts said.

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo English Edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat.