A report, titled, 'The declining women workers in the Bangladesh RMG industry' finds that the proportion of women workers dropped to 53.65 per cent in 2021 from 80 per cent in the 1980s. The report prepared on the basis of a research work carried out jointly by the Ethical Trading Initiative, GIZ (a German public benefit enterprise working in international cooperation for sustainable development) and the Brac University has identified the reasons why women continued to leave apparel factories' jobs in an increasing number. Although the implications of women's voluntary exit as against termination of their service on their empowerment and well-being of their families and communities have been alluded to, how and to what extent those took place have not been explained or analysed. There may be more to the reasons cited by in-service and former garment workers or why should the focus groups' reference to negative working conditions have not at all been mentioned by the workers in employment and those who left?
If simple gender parity is at issue, it is still in favour of women garment workers. However, various studies on women's quitting RMG employment at different times in the past have arrived at varying proportions but all showed a declining share of women's participation in factory work. It is, therefore, concerning that the proportion of women quitters is increasingly becoming higher than their male counterparts. In 2015, of the workers who left RMG jobs, 49 per cent were female which rose to 51 per cent in 2021, according to the latest study. This means not all is well on the RMG job front for women workers. Caring for children topped the list of reason for leaving the job. The year 2021 could have shed more light on the compulsion for opting out because the pandemic was yet to be over and economic crisis was acute. Although 77 per cent of reasons cited by job leavers were related to a family condition, they do not even remotely refer to desperation of earning what may be seen as a pittance but the last line of survival. This is rather strange.
That pregnancy, discrimination for being pregnant, age inappropriateness, inability to balance between work and home responsibilities, improper working environment and conditions including low salaries follow caring for children is unsurprising. What has not been mentioned is the shabby and insecure accommodation, substandard foods women workers can afford with their income for living and survival. Even their return to their slum-like living quarters ---no matter at daytime or after their night shifts ---is fraught with risks of sexual harassment or even violence. Overall, the condition is not women-friendly.
Then how could they make the hard choice of leaving their jobs? It seems they could find some kind of employment in their known environment in villages. Without meeting excessive production target and long hours of duties where promotion is mostly illusive, at home they can now earn from farm labour of five to six hours as much as they did from RMG service. The enterprising among them grow vegetables or have their small duck or poultry farms requiring much less labour. Village economy is undergoing a radical transformation courtesy of young people's entrepreneurial zeal and skills. Without addressing the problems facing women garment workers and making their labour reasonably rewarding, the RMG sector will fail to attract women workers in the future.