How a community platform can empower women garment workers

How a community platform can empower women garment workers

by Juliette Tafreschi created 2021-03-02T12:31:02+07:00
Why create a safe space for women garment workers? The guidebook "How to set up a community platform for women garment workers" will provide you with the right answers.

Thin Thin Khaing moved to Yangon in 1999. She left her mother behind, hoping to find work in the city to support them both. She found a job as a quality control inspector in a factory, but her happiness over the new job quickly faded. Every day she was subjected to scolding from her supervisor. When one day she made a mistake, her supervisor grabbed her by the neck, dragged her across the floor and yelled at her in front of everyone.

Khaing did not know that she could have filed a lawsuit against the perpetrator. She felt unfairly treated and left the job. She had no luck at her second job either. Without notice, she was fired. The feeling of disappointment and helplessness remained.

At her new job, a garment factory, the workers were represented by a union. It was here that Khaing first learned about the Women's Center in Yangon. She became curious and decided to attend the weekly Sunday trainings. For the first time she heard and learned about labour rights, holiday and leave regulations, about occupational health and safety, and learned how to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace.

The story of Thin Thin Khaing is also the story of countless women garment workers in Myanmar. Yet more than 90% of the 600,000 textile workers in Myanmar are female. Everyday hundreds of unskilled women from rural areas make their way to the city to work in one of the 500 garment factories. Working in a garment factory is often seen as the only way for young women from rural areas to earn money and become economically independent. 

Even though the work provides an opportunity for women to earn their own money, it also brings great challenges: Working conditions in factories are often harsh, women know little about their legal rights and get caught in a vicious cycle of exploitation and debt. On top of that, they have to cope with everyday life without their family network.

Why create a safe space for women garment workers?
A report on Myanmar by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reveals that a protected space for exchange is vital for empowering women and for building their capacity. Following this insight and similar experiences in Bangladesh, the GIZ FABRIC project in cooperation with sequa and the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) founded the Women’s Center in Yangon.

The core of this cooperation was to create a guideline how to set up a community platform that provides a safe space for women garment workers to come together outside of the factory setting. Here they can meet, talk about their problems at work and learn more about their rights through trainings, games, and peer counselling. And acquire problem-solving skills and gain confidence to represent their interests.

In the event of a dispute at work or family conflict, women workers can also seek advice from a lawyer. As the Women’s Centre is embedded in trade union structures, in cases of disputes, women can directly contact the relevant structures at CTUM for support to solve the conflict in the factory.

So how does the manual look exactly?
The manual "how to set up community platforms for women garment workers" is divided into six sections. Each section addresses specific questions, provides answers, and shares practical knowledge through concrete examples. The manual clarifies which critical factors to consider before setting up a community-based platform and explains step by step which practical questions to ask. Who is your target group? How do you find the right location? What type of legal registration do you need? How many staff will you need? Who should be your target group for the advocacy initiative? What does the process of monitoring and evaluation involve? How can you mobilize external resources? Who can be your donors? And lastly - how to form an implementer’s network?

If you would like answers to these questions, or generally want to know more about the manual "how to set up community platforms for women garment workers", you can find the detailed guideline here.

Getting back to the beginning. How is Thin Thin Khaing doing today? Khaing feels much more secure at her workplace and plans to stay with her current employer. She says: “The biggest achievement for me was knowing workers’ rights, to have peer-leaders with whom I can discuss my problems at work, and to know that problems can be solved without the need to change my job.”