The vast majority of garment workers – approximately 80% – are women. This is not by chance, but the result of discriminatory practices from start to finish. Women are desirable in the garment industry because employers take advantage of cultural stereotypes – to which women are often obliged to adhere – that portrays women as passive and flexible.
Productive, reproductive and domestic responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking and childcare constrain women’s ability to seek other types of employments. they just do not have the time or opportunity to improve their working conditions, or even speak out about the abuses they face on a daily basis, making them the ideal employees in management’s eyes.
Gender discrimination runs deep throughout all of the countries in which garments are currently produced. Women are frequently subjected to verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment. They also work under the fear of perhaps being assaulted or raped on their way home from work late at night.
Indonesian women employees report that “girls in the factory are harassed by male managers. They come on to the girls, call them into their offices, whisper into their ears, touch them, bribe them with money and threaten them with firing if they don’t have sex with them.”
Women are also discriminated against once they decide to start, or already have, families. In some garment factories, women applicants are asked if they are married or are planning to have children. Some employers will only hire unmarried women with no children and some make each woman sign a document that they agree not to have children during their term of employment.
Compulsory testing during the recruitment phase are all too common. Pregnant women or those who refuse to be tested are simply not hired. Women who become pregnant during their employment may try to hide it, often resulting in birth defects and other childcare issues.
The harassment that pregnant workers encounter includes verbal abuse, higher production quotas, longer work hours and more difficult tasks, such as shifts requiring standing instead of sitting.
“Women can be made to dance like puppets, but men cannot be abused in the same way. The owners do not care if we ask for something, but demands raised by the men must be given some consideration. So they do not employ male workers.”
Female Bangladeshi factory worker