Providing training, health-care and childcare to female workers has an impact that stretches beyond the factory floor.
By Dan Rees, Director of Better Work
Women working in the world’s textile industries often earn less than men and suffer from poor working conditions. Improving them can have a ripple effect on communities. Photograph: Adrees Latif/REUTERS
The world’s clothes are mostly made by female workers. Typically, they are young, with limited education, and live in developing countries. It has been well documented that working conditions across garment industries are in much need of improvement. Yet these jobs are important. In their world, paid factory work can provide a better alternative to workers than other options available, such as unpaid family agriculture or domestic work. But is this work a catalyst for female empowerment or a better life for women?
With Better Work, a joint project of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), we have a presence in more than 900 garment factories, employing one million workers across Cambodia, Vietnam, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Haiti, Jordan and Indonesia, with a programme in Bangladesh on the way.
Our latest research from Vietnam shows that a garment job for a woman is a positive development but by virtue of its existence it does not necessarily result in empowerment or even equality. Recent years have seen significant and sustained improvements in Vietnam’s industry conditions, but as is often the case improvements for women are lagging behind.
Around 80% per cent of Vietnam’s 700,000 factory workers are women. Women tend to be sewers and helpers, while men are usually in higher paid occupations such as cutters and mechanics, and men are three times more likely than women to be supervisors. Women tend to work longer hours than men and are less likely to be promoted or receive training (even when they have been working at the factory longer than men).
Women are also in poorer health, and women’s hourly wages (excluding bonuses) are, on average, about 85 per cent of men’s wages. Female Vietnamese garment workers also report less leisure time than men, because gender dynamics at home stay the same and they end up working full time while keeping up their full time responsibilities in the home.
These findings are disappointing but also pave the way for an enormous development opportunity. Providing good conditions for women workers has an impact that stretches significantly beyond the factory floor. IMF research finds that some countries miss out on up to 27 per cent growth per capita due to gender gaps in the labour market.
Improved working conditions for women has a domino effect, leading to greater investments in children’s health and education and household income. For example in Vietnam, family remittances from workers in the factories where we work are increasing over time: 70 per cent of workers send money to family members, and women send home 24 per cent more than men.
Improving the livelihoods of garment workers is the right thing for the industry to do. But, ultimately, factory work will not be empowering for women workers unless the disadvantages they often face are tackled head on. Paid work can and should create opportunities for women to realize their rights, raise their voice and develop their skills.
We know what works
A considerable share of the female garment workforce has young children and appropriate childcare and health facilities can provide them with essential support and makes business sense. A factory in Vietnam, which established a kindergarten and health clinic for workers found that this investment reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, contributed to a fall in industrial disputes, saved costs and sustained productivity over several years.
Additionally, the IFCs WINVEST initiative is gathering and creating further evidence of the business benefits of investing in women and removing the barriers to their full participation in the workplace.
Women need access to independent workers organizations that can empower them and represent their choices and interests in the workplace. Trade unions must be able to form, organize and to bargain on behalf of workers. Barriers that prevent them from doing so should be removed. By their own admission, workers organizations also have work to do to better represent women workers.
Fruitful communication and negotiation between management and workers is needed for a productive and safe workplace. We provide advice and training for example, to equip supervisors with the skills to resolve disputes and for workers and managers to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions. Our training also targets future supervisors, helping promote young women toward leadership positions within their workplaces.
There is a huge development and business opportunity to grasp by investing in good jobs for women and by providing women with the support they need to realize their rights and their full potential in the workplace. We know what to do. Let’s do it!
Making the Invisible Visible: Valuing women’s work and challenging gender bias in agriculture and resource rights
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Women’s Earth Alliance
|Yashoda is slowly stepping into a leadership role in her community|
“Sometimes I wonder why I work so hard when the land is not on my name,” Yashoda continues. We are on a small family farm, meeting women farmers, who share how gender discrimination defines how women’s immense contribution to agriculture is often overlooked and undermined. Gender inequalities also erode women’s ability to access and manage land and other productive resources and pose as a significant barrier to promoting their economic security and self reliance.
|Women farmers are learning about the importance of seed saving
of native crops during drought conditions
|Veena Hassan, far left, believes that women need to embrace their
leadership at, both, the individual and community level
On July 22, 2013 Al Akhbar newspaper published a profile report on 39 years old Zeinab Nassrallah, who grows tobacco in an area exceeding 50 thousand square meters, produce bread, and sell it on a daily basis, also runs a small commercial shop near her home, and follows studies in one of the neighboring religious schools ‘Hawzaat’. The newspaper report describes in much detail Zeinab’s daily multiple chores, and quotes her saying that organization and good management are the two backbones of success. Despite the skepticism of some of her neighboring farmers about her capacity to grow tobacco alone on such a large area, Zeinab indicated that she began at 17 years of age by cultivating 12 dunums, reaching now 50 dunums and aiming for more. She noted that the personal and external difficulties that she has gone through (poverty, war and the premature death of her father) have strengthened her resolve to maintain her dignity and the dignity of her sisters.
Zeinab points out that what bothers her most are not work difficulties but criticisms by others. Some for example do not approve of her driving a pick-up truck to transfer laborer. Nevertheless, Zeinab remains upbeat and ambition now to learn how to fix vehicles to address emergencies. She also has plans to raise cattle and bees, and thus secure less strenuous livelihood opportunities to her sisters.
Source: Al-Akhbar 22 July 2013
زينب تزرع 50 دونماً دخّاناً وتخبز 400 رغيف يومياً
عندما تنهض زينب نصرالله (39 سنة) عند الثالثة فجراً، يبدأ يوم عمل جديد. بسرعة ترتدي زينب ثياب العمل وتدير محرّك سيارتها الجديدة من نوع «بيك آب». تجول على عدد من الأيدي العاملة من أبناء بلدتها، لتقلّهم الى سهل الخيام، الذي يبعد عن البلدة نحو 25 كلم. هناك يكون القطاف على أنوار مستعمرة المطلّة الخافتة، فالقطاف الباكر جداً ضروريّ لاستغلال الوقت، لكنه يحتاج الى الضوء الذي لا توفّره الدولة هنا.
تتسابق زينب وعمالها إلى قطاف أوراق التبغ المرّة، لأن الحقول التي زرعتها كبيرة جداً، تزيد مساحتها على 50 ألف متر مربع، وهو رقم لم يصل اليه مزارع جنوبي حتى الآن، فكيف اذا كانت مزارعة ــ امرأة.
تخبز زينب الخبز ايضا وتبيعه، اضافة الى مواظبتها على ادارة دكان صغير قرب منزلها، ومتابعة دراستها الدينية في احدى حوزات المنطقة. 50 ألف متر مربع مزروعة بشتول التبغ مغامرة كبيرة في نظر أبناء المنطقة من المزارعين، فكيف مع كل الاعمال الاخرى الاضافية.
يقول علي ابراهيم، من بلدة عيترون، «نحن عائلة من 8 أفراد نزرع طوال السنة 10 دونمات، ولا وقت لدينا للفراغ»، ويعتبر أن «زراعة 50 دونم أمر مستحيل»، لكن لزينب رأياً آخر وتجربة أخرى، تروي انها «بدأت بزراعة 12 دونماً، وأنا في السابعة عشرة من عمري، أما اليوم فأزرع الخمسين دونم وأطمح للمزيد»، وتعتبر أن «التنظيم والادارة هما أساس النجاح، لذلك أجيد استخدام الوقت والمصاريف». تتحدث زينب عن أيام الفقر والاحتلال، يومها فكّرت ماذا عليها أن تفعل للحفاظ على كرامتها وكرامة أخواتها، «تعلّمت زراعة التبغ من والدي، الذي رحل عنا باكراً، فأخذت على عاتقي متابعة الطريق، وعلمت أنني استطيع فعل كل شيء بالصبر والنظام».
عند المغيب تتهيأ زينب وأخواتها الثلاث لصناعة الخبز المرقوق، أما في أوقات الاستراحة من زراعة التبغ، فتعمل زينب على خبز الخبز مع احدى شقيقاتها، وتقول «علينا ان نخبز يومياً 20 عدّة خبز كحدّ أدنى»، أي ما يعادل 400 رغيف خبز، يتم تسويقها بسرعة قياسية، «الزبائن يحضرون الى المنزل ليأخذوا الخبز وبعض التجار يوزعونه على المحال التجارية». هذا لا يعني أن لا وقت للفراغ عند هذه الأسرة، «نعيش كغيرنا من أبناء البلدة، لكننا نستغلّ الوقت جيداً، ونفتح دكاناً صغيراً كان يحقق لنا أرباحاً معقولة، فنحن نستطيع البيع والشراء أثناء عملنا في شكّ التبغ أو خبز الخبز في جوار المنزل، لأن الزبائن يعلمون مكان وجودنا».
في شهر أيار من كل عام تكون زينب قد انتهت من زراعة شتول التبغ وبدأت بقطاف شتول أخرى، فالأراضي تحتاج الى وقت طويل لزراعتها ( بين آذار ونيسان)، وتحتاج زينب الى نحو 10 عمال لمساعدتها على القطاف، لأن سهل الخيام ينتج بشكل مضاعف، نسبة الى أراضي القرى الجبلية، وهذا يساعد زينب على ترك العمل في الحقل قليلاً لتعود الى البلدة لمتابعة عملية شك الأوراق، التي توزع الكثير منها على بنات الضيعة ليساعدنها على شكّها مقابل أجر محدد، في الوقت عينه تقوم زينب بطبخ الطعام للعمال داخل منزلها، وأحياناً تستغل بعض أوقات الفراغ لمتابعة دروسها الدينية.
تحتاج زراعة 50 دونماً من التبغ الى مصاريف كثيرة، اضافة الى استئجار الرخص من أصحابها، تقول زينب «تكلفني زراعة هذه الأراضي 30 مليون ليرة سنوياً، أما الانتاج الصافي فيزيد على الخمسين مليون ليرة». انتاج زينب وأخواتها بات مثالاً يُحتذى. حتى أن بعض الأمهات بتن يعايرن بها أولادهن من الشباب العاطلين عن العمل، ويقلن لهم «شوفو زينب كيف بتشتغل بتعرفوا انوا بالبلد ما بيخلى الشغل». أحد أبناء البلدة من المغتربين، قرّر ترك الاغتراب في ألمانيا والعودة الى زراعة التبغ في سهل الخيام، «استأجر 30 دونماً وزرعها هذا العام على أمل الانتاج المضاعف». تقول زينب «أجرة دونم الأرض في سهل الخيام 25 الف ليرة سنوياً، بينما في البلدة تزيد على 50 ألف ليرة، أما الانتاج فهو مضاعف أيضاً، ما يعني أن الأرباح ستكون أكثر بكثير، لذلك زراعة 50 دونم تحتاج الى استئجار 20 رخصة تبغ». أكثر ما يزعج زينب اليوم، ليس العمل وصعوبته، بل «لأن البعض يحاول انتقادي على عملي الكثير، وكأنه يتعب عني»، أما سيارة «البيك آب» فلم تحرج زينب أكثر مما زعجها عدم تقبل البعض لقيادتها ونقل عمالها الى عملهم، وكلّ ذلك لا يبدو أنه سيخفّف من نشاط زينب فهي «تطمح لتعلم كيفية تصليح أعطال السيارة الطارئة، كي استطيع تخليص نفسي واستغلال وقتي»، كما تطمح لاقامة مزرعة لتربية الأبقار وتربية النحل، وايجاد فرص انتاجية أقل مشقّة على شقيقاتي، فكل ما اريده أن يعمل شقيقاتي في مؤسسة تابعة لهن، حفاظاً على كرامتهن وعزتهن».
Currently, barriers of law and custom stop many women from getting financing for business. Removing those barriers can help overcame the gender gap, and unleash economic growth.
Compared to men, women are frequently disadvantaged in their access to and control over forest resources and in their ability to take advantage of economic opportunities, according to an FAO paper that calls for action on gender disparities in the forestry sector.
“Women’s roles in forestry value chains should be strengthened, as should their voices in forest organizations,” says one of the authors, Libor Stloukal, FAO Policy Officer, explaining that these are two promising ways to eliminate the disadvantages.
Men’s and women’s differing roles and opportunities in the forestry sector result in gender disparities in access to and use of forest foods, fuelwood and fodder for livestock; forest management; the marketing of forest and tree products; and participation in forest user groups. These topics are outlined in “Forests, food security and gender: linkages, disparities and priorities for action,” a paper prepared by a team led by Stloukal of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division (ESW), in collaboration with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), for the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition held at FAO headquarters from 13 to 15 May 2013.
Agroforestry activities are often gender-differentiated: while men are usually interested in trees and forests for commercial purposes, women tend to favour subsistence benefits — food, fuelwood, fodder and soil fertility improvement. A review of 104 studies of gender and agroforestry in Africa, cited in the paper, affirms that women’s participation is very high in the production and processing of indigenous fruit and vegetable products. “Women’s knowledge is often critical for household survival, but is rarely recognized in forest management plans,” Stloukal explains.
In many parts of the world, women’s forestry and agroforestry activities are less lucrative than those of men. Tree products such as charcoal, logs, timber, large branches and poles are often considered male domains and in places like the Luo and Luhya communities in western Kenya, women are restricted from harvesting high-value timber trees. “When policy makers and service providers recognize the value of women’s roles in forestry value chains — as we’ve seen with initiatives involving shea nut butter in Burkina Faso and gum karaya in India — their incomes can be raised significantly,” says Stloukal.
A number of interrelated cultural, socio-economic and institutional reasons are causing the differences between men’s and women’s opportunities in the forestry sector. They range from the social perceptions of women’s roles and the time women have to spend on domestic responsibilities and childcare to gender disparities in literacy, education, physical abilities, technical skills and access to training and credit services.
Women must not only be represented in forestry institutions, but also accepted as stakeholders with specific views and interests, the FAO paper contends. Empowerment of women through, for example, formal education, training and support for income generation would allow them to have a greater say in transformative decisions. “Efforts to include women in forest-related institutions should be strengthened,” says Stloukal, “because women can help maximize synergies between the forest sector and food security for the benefit of all.”
18 April 2013 – With women projected to comprise a majority of the world’s urban dwellers and head increasing numbers of households, gender equality in employment, housing, health and education is vital to ensure the prosperity of the cities of the future, according to a new United Nations study.
“Women are key drivers of economic growth and that wealth in the hands of women leads to much more equitable outcomes in terms of the quality of life of families and communities,” the study, entitled State of Women in Cities Report 2012/13, said. “Addressing the barriers to women’s participation in cities creates a situation where women’s potential is more fully realised and households, communities and governments also reap rewards.
“It is imperative that women and men should enjoy equal rights and opportunities in cities on moral/ethical, economic and political grounds. This will not only engender women’s well-being but it will increase their individual and collective prosperity as well as the prosperity of the cities in which they reside.”
Produced by the Nairobi-based UN Human Settlements Programme, known as UN-HABITAT, which is mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all, the report also stressed the need to address unemployment and other disadvantages that hobble urban youth.
The report called for policies to enhance gender equality, equity and prosperity of women in cities, noting that cities of the future will comprise a majority female component, especially among people older than 60 and even more so among those older than 80 years.
While underscoring the unpaid caring and social activities that women undertake, such as childcare, caring for the sick, disabled and elderly, washing, cleaning and other community services that allow the urban economy to function and prosper, even if this labour is seldom recognised or valued, the report stressed the “crucially important” economic contributions they make through their paid work
“The ‘feminization’ of the global labour force tends to be associated with urbanisation, with the related concentration of women in export-manufacturing, the service sector and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT),” it said, adding that women, especially the urban poor, are disadvantaged in terms of equal access to employment, housing, health and education, asset ownership, experiences of urban violence, and ability to exercise their rights.
UN-HABITAT’s State of Urban Youth Report 2012/2013 stressed that while the young are “society’s most important and dynamic human resource” – with 1.3 billion between ages 12 and 24, most of them living in urban areas – nearly 45 per cent of them, some 515 million, live on less than $2 a day.
It called for better aligning educational and training systems with the current and future needs of young people, so that they cannot only discern developmental issues but may even be capable of suggesting innovative solutions to deep problems of development and growth.
“Of paramount importance is access to education and opportunities for acquiring skills,” the study added, stressing that youth inequality in urban life is closely related to unequal opportunities in later life and calling for policies that include investment in economic infrastructure, tax incentives, vocational training schemes and regulations that aim at a more equitable labour market for urban youth.