POST TIME: 8 March, 2018 01:25:53 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 8 March, 2018 10:02:08 AM
Female workers need to break shackles of exclusion
Operating advanced machinery in RMG industry
Kaniz Fatima

Female workers need to break shackles of exclusion

Garment workers walk a factory in the capital. Independent file photo

Mahmooda Sultana, born at Ishwardi in Rajshahi, made the headlines recently after she received the prestigious IRAD Innovator of the Year award from NASA. But more importantly, her achievement shows how much a woman from our country can do if she gets the right opportunity.

The economic role of women in society has certainly changed. But women still cannot contribute to their true potential because they are denied equal opportunity—in society, in the workplace, in the family, and in every sphere of their lives. The latest threat to women has been posed by automation in manufacturing in the readymade garments (RMG) sector.

According to a recent study by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a civil society think-tank, the automation of manufacturing reduced female workers’ participation in the RMG sector to 60.8 per cent in 2016 from 64 per cent in 2015.

The factory owners apparently believe that female workers cannot handle modern machinery, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, the research director of CPD, said on Saturday while presenting the study on the ongoing upgrade in the RMG factories.

Trade union leaders and experts called for training to make female workers capable of operating advanced machinery.

Selima Ahmad, president of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BWCCI), said it is a misperception that female workers cannot handle modern machinery.

“If a man can do it, so can a woman. If there is a problem in a certain case, the employers should arrange training for that female worker,” she emphasised.

“I can say from experience that it is totally a wrong idea that female workers are less knowledgeable and unable to handle modern machinery,” she told The Independent yesterday.

“Businesspersons obviously think only about making profit, but they have to think about the social profit too,” she said.

“If the female workers are trained properly, there is no reason that they will not be to do that work,” she argued.

A World Economic Forum report recently presented at Davos in Switzerland suggests that there will be a gender disparity in jobs lost to automation. The report titled ‘Toward a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All’ reiterates the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics findings that 1.4 million jobs in the US will be disrupted or lost to automation and other factors between now and 2026. According to the World Economic Forum’s research, 57 per cent of those jobs will belong to women.

Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, the assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said before the RMG factory owners introduce modern machinery, they should have a plan in place. They need to make a plan to train the workers. But they do not do this. This is the insignificant reason for the decreasing number of female workers in the RMG sector.

He claimed that there is a major reason behind this.

“The health and safety issues of female workers are the main factors why owners are reluctant to appoint them in industry,” Syed Sultan told The Independent yesterday.

When asked about its consequences, Syed Sultan said everyone will be affected because of this discrimination, which will hinder the achievement of the social development goals (SDGs).

Human rights lawyer Salma Ali blamed it on the patriarchal mindset. “Actually, the owners think the female workers will take maternity leave and also worry about the safety issues,” she said.

“Female workers are very honest. They do not waste time. Yet, they are denied equal opportunity. It is an ominous sign,” she added.

“We observe International Women’s Day to protest against discrimination. But it is still very much on,” she noted.

What is needed to change this picture is a concerted effort to open the door of opportunity to women, said various experts.

Also, female workers need to break the shackles of exclusion, they said, adding that it is time to create a world where all women can meet their potential

without facing any hurdle or prejudice.