Ready Made Garments’ (RMG) Contributions and women empowerment :Bangladesh Perspective.

There is no denying the fact that without women empowerment
development goals of Bangladesh is always unreachable. This country
belongs to a social system where women consider as a burden for the family.
However, the scenario is changing with time. Nowadays, women are
working in garments sector, education sector, banking sector, different
NGO’s and government organizations but the single garment sector where
seventy percent of workers of 4.0 million are women and most of them are
less educated, unskilled and from rural areas. These women have neither
decision making power and nor access to resources before getting the job in
the garments sector. The job creates ample opportunity for female workers
by giving economic freedom, keeping them near the resources and facilities
in the city area, and making them knowledgeable, and skills through training,
counseling, and sharing problem with coworkers. The study reveals that
empowerment of women vastly depends on four variables which are
women’s financial contribution to family, women’s access to resources,
women’s participation in household decision making and their perception of
coping capacity to shocks. It has been found that garments sector
significantly contribute to enhance the female worker’s ability to contribute
financially, to participate in decision making, to access resources, and to
cope with risks which ultimately increase their empowerment in the society
as a whole.

Women empowerment is the precursor of poverty elimination and
uplifting human rights in Bangladesh where half of the population is women.
Social oppression and economic inequality creates unfavorable situations for
rural women who are actually belonging to extremely poor income group
(DFID, 2000). As a patriarchal society, men have supreme authority to
control both households and society whereas women generally kept in their
house (Balk, 1997).
Women’s are becoming vulnerable in Bangladesh because of their
less access to household resources, poor knowledge and skills, huge
domestic workloads, and limited part in household decision making (Sebstad
and Cohen 2002). In Bangladesh, women’s are unequally treated by the
family members and sometimes restrict them to go outside such as to join
garment sector which means women have no voice in the family (Cain et al,
Bangladesh RMG sector plays a significant role to reduce poverty
and to increase women empowerment. RMG industry has been swaggering
in the country since long time as a catalyst for sustainable development and
growth. The RMG employees around 4.0 million people directly, 70% of
them women. This sector has created a platform for 2.8 million women to
engage in new productive role in the society and empowering the poor. The
apex body of country’s leading export item, Bangladesh Garments
Manufacturers & Exporters Association has total number of 4300 members
out of which 1720 factories are Knitwear and sweater manufacturers and
around 2580 factories are woven garments manufacturers. BGMEA member
factories account for 100% woven garment exports of the country and more
than 95% of sweater exports, while around half of the light knitwear exports
are made by them (ACD, 2016).
The Asian Center for Development organization has conducted the
survey on 1204 workers of 173 BGMEA enlisted garments factories and
average number of employees was near about 950 workers. The male and
female employees’ ratios of sweater factories, knitwear factories and other
factories were 46:54, 42:58 and 30:70 respectively. The survey result showed
that nearly 87 per cent of the workers migrated from 59 districts to the
factory location from other districts and the rest were local workers. On an
average, a garment worker monthly expenditure was around eleven thousand
two hundred ninety nine taka and the garment employee expend 40 percent
for food consumption, 30 percent for housing, 11 percent remitted to their
parents. The statistics of the surveyed workers’ assets were 86 per cent had
mobile phone followed by 84 per cent have electric fans, 75 per cent have
own homes, 68 percent had television and 28 percent had gold ornaments.
The study also collected data about workers’ literacy and found that 71

percent can read and write while 83 percent can read and only 12 percent
neither read nor write. Normally, garments worker incomes vary from 6000
taka to 12000 taka on the basis of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled
workers. It was also found in the analysis that a garments worker spends
Taka 667for children or siblings education, Taka 604 for health, Taka 526
for clothing, Taka 316 for mobile phone use, Taka 299 for cosmetics, and
Taka 98 for entertainment. Approximately 40 percent of garments worker
send money to their extended family members and the amount was Taka
3000. The collected data disclosed that about 84.2 per cent of the factories
have their own doctors, 38.81 per cent have health workers, and 76 per cent
factories also provide medicine. These facilities used by the 66 per cent of
the workers when they were ill.
In the garment sector, exploitation of female employees starts from
recruitment process by not giving the appointment letter (Absar, 2002).
Women are considered differently in case of wages and promotions. The
working condition of the factory is not congenial because of overcrowded
workforce performing different activities in the same floor (Paul-Majumder
and Begum, 2000).
Generally, some people do job for survival while others do job to
increase the living standard. Female workers are working in the garments
sector for different push and pull reasons (Kibria, 1998). Financial hardship,
different types of household crises such as losing in the business,
unemployment, illness or death of the chief source of the family income are
considered as push factors while pull factors are related with the attractive
forces which influence women to enhance their standard of living (Kibria,
Empowerment is ensured by raising voices. Female garments
workers have limited voice not only in the home because of male domination
but also at the work place because of absence of trade union (Ahmed, 2004:
38-41). Development denotes, in a wide sense, fortifying well-being and the
satisfaction of human needs (Galtung, 1980). Therefore, in order to ensure
development, it is necessary to remove all kinds of gender inequalities,
because gender inequalities negatively affect the well-being (Klasen, 2000),
and satisfaction of human needs.
The above literature demonstrates that garments sector has pivotal
role in women empowerment especially for poor and rural women though it
is not up to the mark. In these circumstances, the authors attempted to find
out the level of women empowerment among the garments worker of
Empowerment refers to boost decision making ability of individuals
and groups and transform those decisions into reality (Narayan 2002).
Resources, agency and achievements are three inter-related dimensions

which comprises a person’s decision making capability.
Resources mean material resources as well as social and human
resources which help to increase the capability of decision making. In the
boarder sense, resources are developed through a diversify social
relationships such as family, market and community of the society. Right to
entry or use such resources will narrate the rules and norms of administering
distribution and exchange in different institutional arenas. In determining the
principles of distribution and exchange certain actors authority over others
according to the previously mentioned rules and norms hence distribution of
‘allocative resources’ embedded by the distribution of ‘authoritative
resources’ (Giddens, 1979).
Sathar and Kazi (1997), for example, connect both `access’ and
`control’ with having a say in decisions related to particular household
resources. They measured two things such as ‘access to resources’ which is
reflected on whether women participates in household expenses decisions
and whether women can freely buy clothes, jewelry, and gifts for their
relatives and ‘control over resources’ is calculated by knowing who kept
household earnings and who has the authority in household expenditure. In
Jejeebhoy’s (1997) analysis resources are related to the concepts of `access’,
`control’ and `decision-making’, where `control’ sometimes referring to
ownership and decision-making.
Women’s empowerment can be defined as controlling the key aspects
of their lives (Kishor’s (1997). It is very difficult to define control in one
term because it has different meaning such as control explained in relation to
resources, earnings and expenditure. Some other sees control as a selfreliance
means self-dependency and some other sees decision making
authority is a true indicator of control. Last but not the least some people
believe that freedom to choice the life partner is also an indicator of
Measurement of agency comprises both positive and negative agency
such as women’s participation in public action, their mobility in the public
domain, the occurrence of male viciousness and so on. Nonetheless, decision
making agency is off and on use to measure agency hence decision making is
the heart of conceptualizing power (Lukes, 1974; McElroy, 1992).
Here are some decision-making indicators which vary country to
country. In Egypt, decision making power is measured on the basis of the
decisions of food cooked, visits, children’s education, household budget,
children’s health, use of family planning methods (Kishor, 1997).
In case of India, whether women have decision making power or not
is judge by look at the decision making ability about disciplining the child;
decisions about children’s education and type of school, purchase of food;
purchase of major household goods; purchase of small items of jewelry; and

course of action if child falls ill (Jejeebhoy, 1997). The factors are different
in Zimbabwe where women’s decision making ability depends on the
decisions about spouse working outside; making a major purchase; and the
number of children (Becker, 1997).
In Pakistan, decision making authority of women reflects the decision
taken by the women about Children’s marriage; major household purchases;
Purchase of food; number of children; schooling of children; women’s work
outside the home; sale and purchase of livestock; household expenses;
purchase of clothes, jewelry and gifts for wife’s relatives (Sathar and Kazi,
1997). In Bangladesh context, women’s decision making ability lies on
ability to make small and large consumer purchases; house repair; taking in
livestock for raising; leasing in of land; purchase of major assets (Hashemi et
al., 1996).
Agency is the capacity to make meaningful choice and asset
endowments are used as indicators of agency. These assets can be
psychological, informational, organizational, material, social, financial, or
human. Some assets are easy to measures while others are not. For example,
it is difficult to access psychological assets (such as the capacity to envision)
or social assets (such as social capital) than quantify human assets (such as
skills or literacy) (Alsop, Ruth, Anirudh Krishna, and Disa Sjoblom. 2001).
It is difficult to understand the interaction among assets for example, a single
asset is ownership of land can affect a person’s ability to make meaningful
choices whereas education (a human asset) often gives an actor greater
access to information (itself an asset) and at times improves his/her capacity
to envision alternative options (a psychological asset).
The manifestation and operation of formal and informal institutions
or rules of the game is an actor’s of opportunity structure (North 1990, and
Uphoff 1986). The presence and process of the formal and informal laws,
regulations, norms, and customs determine whether individuals and groups
have access to assets, and whether these people can use the assets to achieve
desired outcomes (Freire 1973 and Fals Borda 1988).
Direct measures of empowerment can be made by assessing existence
of choice, use of choice and achievement of choice. For example, to assess
the degree of political empowerment of women, it is necessary to know (i)
whether opportunities for political participation exist, such as whether
elections are held, and, if so, (ii) whether women attempt to vote; and (iii)
whether they actually vote. The use of choice involves measuring whether or
not a person or group takes advantage of an opportunity to choose. The
mother of a child can think to send her daughter to school if there is a school
it means without existence of institution choice cannot be made (Alsop,
Sjoblom, and Krishna 2001).

The degree of empowerment is varying from level to level. Research
demonstrates that individuals or communities empowered at the intermediary
or macro level are not necessarily empowered at the local level (Fox 1996,
Moore 2001, Moser, 1987).
Socio-economic dimension, familial dimensions and psychological
dimensions are three important dimensions of women’s empowerment
(Malhotra et al., 2002). These dimensions are dynamic, interlinked and
mutually reinforcing at household level and recognize the fact that the level
of gender equality and development are directly proportional.
Six indicators of women’s empowerment are contribution to
household income, access to resources, ownership to assets, participation in
household decision making, perception on gender awareness, and coping
capacity to household shocks (Shahnaj Parveen and Ingrid-Ute Leonhäuser
2004). Financial contribution includes both farm activities and nonfarm
activities. Access to resources narrates the right, scope, power or permission
to use and get benefits from household resources and social resources. The
third indicator of women empowerment is ownership of assets (both
productive and non-productive) which means women have the capability to
control their own assets and enjoy profits and advantages occurring form
them. Participation in household decision making is the fourth factor which
actually shows the women’s participation in decision making process and
also implementing the decision in different family and social matters. The
fifth factor is the gender awareness which denotes the women consciousness
about gender inequality and unfairness in the society. The sixth and the last
indicator of women empowerment is the coping capacity to household
shocks which means women’s risk taking ability and crisis management

Objectives of the study:
The main purpose of the study is to examine the relationship of
Ready Made Garments sector’s contribution to women empowerment in
Bangladesh. The specific objectives are:-
(i) To examine the relationship between the readymade garments’
contributions and women empowerment.
(ii) To find out the readymade garments contributions which is most
significantly related to the women empowerment?
(iii) To make a rank among the readymade garments contributions on the
basis of the association with the women empowerment.
(iv) To suggest some policy measures to be adopted by the planners and
the decision makers.

With a view to conducting a research study, what is necessary is to
design the research framework and select the appropriate research
methodology. Given the nature of the present study, it was required to collect
data both from the primary and the secondary sources. Secondary data were
collected by consulting various documents, such as, Office-Order; Annual
Reports, Employee profile, Employee data base prepared by Human
Resource Department, and relevant Journals.
Interview technique was used with structured questionnaire for
collection of primary data. The judgmental sampling procedure was used to
select the sample units from different employees of different garments
factories who were willing to respond to the questionnaire. Total numbers of
respondents were two thousand selected from forty different factories of
Gazipur and Savar districts of Dhaka division. These garments factories
represent the total garments factories in Bangladesh. Before interviewing
with the final questionnaire the author checked the questionnaire with 50
garments workers to find out whether the questionnaire was understandable
and match with objectives or need improvements etc. The questionnaire is
made of 35 questions and five questions for each variable. The data, thus
collected, was analyzed keeping in mind the objectives of the study. And for
hypothesis test the authors used multiple regression analysis with the help of

Finding of the Study:
Background Information:
In Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, most of the employees in
workers’ level are female. Total numbers of respondents were 2000 female
employees selected from forty different garments factories of Gazipur and
Savar area out of which 0.08% are working in top level, 0.89% are in midlevel,
4.45% are in first level management and 94.58% are in operators’
level. Nearly about 1700 respondents are from rural areas of Bangladesh
whereas 300 are from urban places.
Respondents are of different age groups and two third of the
respondents were in between 21 to 35 years of age followed by 246
respondents whose age below 20 but above 16. 144 respondents were
belongs to 36 to 45 age group. Only 13 respondents were from oldest age
group (56-65) followed by 46 respondents were from 46 to 55 age groups.

Women’s marital status is one of the key factors which influencing
women empowerment in a significant level. One third of the respondents
were single followed by 603 married women and 295 separated women. The
numbers of divorced women in this survey were 246 whereas widowed
numbers were 154.

Educational qualification directly and indirectly related with
women’s empowerment. In this survey, the respondents’ qualifications were
varying from below secondary school certificate to graduate level. As most
of the respondents were garments operators, sixty percent respondents were
S.S.C pass, one fourth of the respondents were below S.S.C level and one
eighth respondents were H.S.C pass and only twenty respondents were

Discussion of the Findings:
Women’s empowerment in the family more or less depends on her
financial contribution. However, this empowerment varies from family to
family because each family consists of different family members which
mean different attitude different personality. Three hundred seventy eight
respondents contributed seventy to sixty percent of their total family
expenditure followed by 343 respondents paid fifty to forty percent family
expenditure and 324 respondents gave half of the family expenditure to their
family. One sixth of the respondents gave thirty to forty percent of their
family expenditure. It was noticeable that 300 respondents paid 90 to 80
percent of their family expenditure and 51 gave money to pay all the


In Bangladesh, traditionally most of the household decisions are
taken by the men. However, due to the financial solvency of women helps
them to participate in household decision making. In this survey, one fourth
women participated in 20 to 10 percent of their family decision making
followed by another one fourth women participated in 40 to 30 percent of
their household decisions. Two hundred seventy seven respondents told that
they participated half of their family decision and a good number of one fifty
seven women gave their opinion in 60 to 50 percent of their household
decision. One tenth of the respondents participated in 90 to 60 percent of
their family decision. Less than ten percent household decisions were
attended by 157 garments workers and the remaining 221 respondents
attended only 30 to 20 percent decisions.

Women’s are not aware of their rights, scopes and gender inequality
issues. To ensure empowerment women have to be more conscious about
their rights and privileges. In this study, it had been found that almost all
respondents were less than 50 percent conscious about gender awareness.
Five hundred thirty eight respondents were only less than 10 percent
conscious about gender inequality followed by 407 respondents whose
gender awareness belongs to 10 to 20 percent. One eighth garments workers
showed 20 to 30 percent awareness and 30 to 40 percent awareness showed
by one fourth of the samples. The remaining 213 respondents were 50
percent conscious about their rights and 70 percent awareness showed by 65


To consider the social and economic conditions of the respondent,
they gave their opinion about women empowerment in their life. Only 26
respondents felt that they were empowered by 70 to 80 percent and the
second position achieved by 88 participants with 60 to 70 percent
empowerment. The survey result showed that 236 respondents belongs to 50
to 60 percent empowered level and 492 garments employees of the samples
enjoyed 40 to 50 percent empowerment. It was the opinion of 905
respondents that they had the opportunity to exercise only 30 to 20 percent of
empowerment. The remaining 253 garment employees thought that they
were empowered by only 0 to 20 percent.


It has been observed from the findings of the conducted study that
ready-made garments have significant effects on women empowerment. In
general, women’s financial contribution to family is the deciding factor of
their empowerment though their communications skills and understanding
ability of the situation helps them to participate in household decision
making and access to resources which are also have great impact on their
empowerment. Therefore, to enhance the women empowerment, more
garments factories needs to establish by complying country’s prevailing rules
and regulations and buyers demand and create more employment for female
workers. In this study, four major factors financial contribution to family,
participation in household decision making, access to resources and
perception of gender awareness which represented ready-made garments
contribution to women empowerment. The study reveals that the most
significantly related female employees’ empowerment is the financial
contribution to family. Participation in household decision making is the
second most significant variable which contributes to increases women
empowerment followed by access to resources and perception of gender
awareness variables which also have noticeable impact on women empowerment. Other factors have no significant contribution to women
empowerment because of the male domination society and its structure
although the general perception of society has been changed slowly towards
women empowerment. The collected data was the representation of the
institutional practices of different garments company as well as the personal
characteristics of the respondent such as age, marital status, education etc.
Therefore, the study suggests doing in depth study on this issue covering
other types of institutions and larger sample size. To consider all these
circumstances the results of the study may be useful in increasing women
empowerment by focusing more support to female workers of garment
factories by their management and also by the buyer and the BGMEA.

Courtesy: Mohammed Masum Billah and Md. Rafiqul Islam Manik


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