The Ready-Made-Garments (RMG) industry employs approximately 4.1 million people in Bangladesh, with women holding a sizable 56 percent of the jobs. But this is a declining trend from the 1990s, when women made up almost 90 percent of the RMG workforce.
Despite its positive contribution to women’s financial empowerment over the decades, the sector has not made the same rate of progress in ensuring decent work environment, and diversifying job roles for women workers. The clear majority of the women workforce is disproportionately employed in low-skilled jobs, with minimal opportunities for career mobility.
At the same time, the use of automation and digital technology is making its way into the textile industry, and approximately 2.7 million RMG workers in Bangladesh stand to lose to their livelihoods in the next 20 years. Women are particularly at risk, as they are often employed to execute the tasks which are highly susceptible to automation. These uncertainties are worsened by the negative gender stereotypes on women not being able to handle high technology, along with the economic insecurities in health, social safety nets and other aspects in their daily lives. There are multi-layered and interconnected challenges with a limited scope of improvement, if multiple aspects are not addressed simultaneously.
Oporajita is equipping women for the future
The collective impact initiative Oporajita brings together a diversified group of stakeholders which collectively are working to ensure that women garment workers have access to the relevant working skills and competences needed for their future of work, while operating in an environment that is enabling and inclusive of their choices. The activities within the initiative are defined, implemented and evaluated together with the women garment workers themselves and cover multiple needs within three thematic areas that significantly impact their lives.
Through the initiative ‘Oporajita’ multiple partners are joining hands to equip women garment workers for a future defined by automation and digitalization. By working collectively, we can holistically address challenges to women’s future employment opportunities – and achieve transformative change for the industry and the people working within it.
Enabling Environment – Within this area we ensure a safe working environment, in which women have agency to lead secure, dignified, and fulfilling lives. For instance, by providing access to hygiene practices and health services, digital financial literacy, and parenting support, as well as by promoting gender-inclusive practices. Beyond this, we are working with perception change activities which are targeting the broader community to challenge existing stereotypes of women’s roles connected to technology, career development, and leadership.
Skills Training – Within this scope, we facilitate career development within and beyond the RMG sector, by providing relevant skills training in both power skills like leadership and communication and technical skills needed to become a multi-machine operator. Additionally, out-of-work garment workers are supported with alternative livelihood opportunities through skills training in micro-entrepreneurship and jobs tied to the circular economy.
RMG Sector Competitiveness – The activities within this thematic area contributes to an RMG sector that is more inclusive and resilient to automation and emerging competition. It has a concerted focus on sustainability by identifying possible linkages and collaborative actions between major stakeholders, and by piloting human-centered innovations, including the creation of jobs within a circular economy, that increases the employability of women RMG workers.