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!
Greater gender equality in working hours is not just about more women in full-time employment. It is also about more men reducing their long hours in paid work. Although detailed information is available for a limited number of OECD countries, data on the usual hours worked per week illustrate how the prevalence of long and short working hours differs across countries and the sexes.
Among the sample of countries, the United Kingdom has the longest working hours culture: more than 20% of employed men usually work 40 to 50 hours per week and another 20% working more than 50 hours per week. In the Czech Republic, France and Poland, 20% of employed men also usually work for more than 50 hours per week, considerably more than in the other countries, including Germany, Hungary, Scandinavian countries and the Slovak Republic.
France and the United Kingdom are also the countries where most women usually work more than 40 hours per week (over 15%). At the same time, many British women work part-time (hyperlink to the indicator), while the prevailing “35 hours working week” contributes to most women working less than 40 hours per week in France.
The forty hour working week is the overriding working hours’ pattern for both men and women in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Hungary. In Finland, Norway and Sweden collective and/or sectoral agreements often lead to usual weekly working hours of around 37.5 hours per week. Indeed, the long working hours’ culture is not pervasive in Scandinavian countries, which contributes to the general perception in these countries that pursuing both active work- and family lives are compatible aspirations for both fathers and mothers.
The Distribution of usual hours worked among men and women in employment
Source: OECD Employment database
Over the last 50 years, women decreased their hours of unpaid work as they increased the hours of paid work. Men have been doing more housework and child care, but they didn’t take up the slack so gender inequalities in the use of time are still large in all countries. Turkish women spend the most time doing unpaid work, such as housework or shopping, at 377 minutes a day, followed by Mexican women at 373. This compares to their menfolk: Mexican men who spend an average of 113 minutes on unpaid work and Korean men who spend only 45 minutes, the least of all. If we look at the sum of paid and unpaid work, women work more than men (2.6 hours more per week on average across the OECD).
When it comes to time spent on personal care, including eating and sleeping, the gap between the sexes is much smaller. French women spend the most time in personal care, at 755, just ahead of Italian women at 697. Their men spend almost as much time (738) – just ahead of Italian males at 697.
In virtually every country, men are able to fit in valuable extra minutes of leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework.
Time spent in unpaid work and leisure
Minutes per day
Source: OECD based on data from National Time Use Surveys.
La carte du travail domestique des hommes dans les pays de l’OCDE/ Men’s domestic work in OECD Countries (MAP)
Si vous ne devez visiter qu’un seul site pour préparer vos discussions et débats du 8 mars, journée internationale des droits des femmes, avec vos amis, votre famille ou vos collègues, c’est celui de l’OCDE.
Le site de l’organisation internationale d’études économiques contient en effet une rubrique de statistiques se concentrant sur les inégalités entre les hommes et les femmes dans les domaines de l’éducation, du travail et de l’entrepreneuriat dans les 36 pays membres (principalement en Europe et en Amérique du Nord).
Dans cette mine de statistiques, le magazine en ligne Quartz a identifié un indicateur particulièrement intéressant, celui du temps que les hommes passent à effectuer des tâches domestiques non-rémunérées (qui incluent la cuisine, le ménage ou encore la garde des enfants). Nous avons rassemblé les données dans la carte ci-dessus, et le détail est ici:
On peut voir que les hommes français consacrent un peu plus d’1h30 par jour aux tâches ménagères, un temps non-négligeable et bien supérieur à la moyenne des 29 pays étudiées, qui se situe juste en-dessous d’1h15. Dans un document de travail publié en février dernier, l’Institut national d’études démographiques (Ined) expliquait les récentes évolutions en matière de travail domestique dans les ménages français:
«Au cours des 25 dernières années, les hommes se sont davantage impliqués dans l’éducation des enfants, tandis que leur participation dans les autres tâches domestiques est restée stable. Les femmes ont également consacré davantage de temps aux activités parentales mais sensiblement moins à l’entretien domestique. […]
Les couples sont plutôt homogames en termes de temps passé aux tâches domestiques et le sont davantage au fil du temps. La spécialisation conjugale des tâches domestiques traditionnelle avec l’homme pourvoyeur principal de ressource a diminué, notamment dans les années 1990. Toutefois, on observe des résistances au partage plus égal des tâches domestiques, les femmes demeurant toujours les premières responsables de la bonne tenue de la maison et des membres de la famille.»
On voit dans les statistiques de l’OCDE que les hommes japonais, coréens, turcs et indiens se détachent par le très peu de temps qu’ils consacrent aux tâches ménagères. Les Indiens sont les recordmen des 29 pays étudiés avec seulement 19 minutes par jour. «L’Inde est constamment en retard dans les différentes d’égalité homme-femme», souligne Quartz, qui rappelle que les Nations unies ont placé le pays à la 132e place sur 148 de son récent index sur les inégalités homme-femme.
A new ILO study examines the constraints on working women in Algeria and the opportunities available to them.
Despite the considerable advances seen in the Algerian political sphere, where women constitute over 31 per cent of the deputies to the National Assembly (*), their economic participation remains very low.
In 2011, with a proportion of 17.7 per cent of women in the workforce, Algeria – alongside Iraq and Syria – was among the countries with the lowest level of female economic participation in the world – according to an ILO study pending publication (**). Women are, nevertheless, gradually beginning to enter the workforce. According to the National Statistical Office of Algeria, by 2013 the female labour force participation rate had risen to 19 per cent.
“Invisible” home-based activities
According to the ILO study, the female labour force participation rate is held back by a multitude of complex, notably sociocultural, factors.
Parts of the population do not consider that women who perform unpaid home-based activities in such areas as the agricultural, livestock, textile and clothing sectors are really part of the labour force.
The weight of tradition or certain family constraints restrict women’s work and travel opportunities.
Young women often have little contact with the world outside their family circle and are also less well informed and less prepared for entrepreneurial life. Families are often more inclined to provide moral and financial support to boys for enterprise-creation projects.
The lady from Tissemsilt herself told the ILO investigators: “I would like my daughter to go to university, but I do not want her to work. I would like her to study, to become cultured and to achieve all she can at university, that would be a good thing, but I would prefer her not to work as she will never be respected at work. The men have no respect for young women.”
This statement by a wife and mother of five children, which appears in the ILO study, speaks volumes about cultural obstacles to the participation of women in working life.
Hearing what women have to say
In addition to conducting a detailed analysis of labour market statistics for women between 2001 and 2011, the study’s authors – Jacques Charmes and Malika Remaoun – also spoke to women directly in order to compare the statistical data collected with the daily reality experienced by Algerian women.
The women described their lives and ambitions and reflected on their own family, educational and occupational experiences. The study presents a number of positive developments seen in women’s employment, which are the result of various mechanisms put in place for them by the authorities.
The report stresses, however, that women hold their destiny in their own hands and future progress will depend on their determination to push back the boundaries and overcome obstacles.
Concluding the debate more eloquently than any statistic, one woman entrepreneur from Tiaret notes:
“It is also a question of not wanting to be dependent on men, of having a career, of demonstrating one’s true abilities. And I think that women are more determined, they have more to offer.”
* In accordance with a law passed in November 2011, which imposes a female quota of 20–50 per cent of the seats on their list.
** Les contraintes et opportunités pour l’emploi des femmes en Algérie, ILO, Algiers, 2014 (pending publication).
Our welfare and well-being is dependent on ‘carers’, but their plight is too often ignored by policymakers around the world. A report published in August by the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, argues that the unequal care responsibilities heaped on women was a ‘major barrier to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights, and, in many cases, condemn women to poverty’.