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There are 1.5 cr people, at the moment, who are working in the apparel industry which is likely to increase by 2022 to 2.14 crore. Among these sixty percent of the garment workforce across India is female, with significant variation by region. Moreover, India has high rates of informal and home-based work, particularly among women, so the number of women contributing to the global apparel sector is likely much larger.

Apparel sector comes second after agriculture sector in providing jobs to the people and it the second-largest employment generator. There are 1.5 crore people, at the moment, who are working in the apparel industry which is likely to increase by 2022 to 2.14 crore.

Among these sixty percent of the garment workforce across India is female, with significant variation by region. Moreover, India has high rates of informal and home-based work, particularly among women, so the number of women contributing to the global apparel sector is likely much larger.

Economists recognise that India will not be able to reach its economic potential without increasing women’s participation in the formal workforce and economy. Recently, the government launched programs to bring “trainees” from rural areas to urban centers like Bangalore to learn trade and work in facilities like apparel sector factories. These trainees are often the first unmarried women from their villages to migrate to the city, and these jobs are likely their first formal employment opportunities.

Apart from encouraging women employment there is a skill gap of 60 lakhs which needs to be urgently met. Various departments of the government of India are trying to reduce this skill gap. The major role is being played by the Apparel Made-Ups Home Furnishing Sector Skill Council in reducing this skill gap.


P.A.C.E. – Empowering Women

Launched in 2007, the innovative Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) program was initially created to support women in the global apparel industry. Although women represent the majority of the sector’s workforce, relatively few have the opportunity to advance to management positions, and many lack access to the education and skills training they need to support their personal and professional growth.

P.A.C.E. is developed to give these women the foundational life skills, technical training and support that will help them advance in the workplace and in their personal lives, as documented in the program’s evaluation results.

Being involved in a transformational journey themselves, P.A.C.E. trained women had an aspiration for their daughters to participate in a similar program. In 2016, Gap Inc. expanded the P.A.C.E. programming to include adolescent girls in two age groups (11-13 and 14-17) as a result of the vision that P.A.C.E. graduates had seen for their own daughters to possess better life skills, to be bolder, braver and able to negotiate their problems more effectively.

By 2022, over one million women are estimated to have participated in this life-changing program, and many more will be served in the next after that.

HER finance

Believing that by simply changing the way in which women factory workers receive their wages, the household power dynamics can be shifted, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) designed HERfinance Digital Wages program. Through this programme, tablet-based toolkit is used to support and advice the factories.

Mastercard and BSR are building on the lessons from HERfinance in Bangladesh and partnering with several major global brands, including Levi’s, VF Corporation and Marks & Spencer to help improve garment workers’ financial empowerment and accelerate the transition to digital wages.

“The four schemes launched for the handloom workers are: National Handloom Development Programme, Handloom Weavers’ Comprehensive Welfare Scheme, Yarn Supply Scheme and Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme.”

Gap Inc. and  USAID Women & Water Global Development Alliance

Launched in 2017 with USAID, the five-year program aims to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities in India touched by the apparel industry. WaterAid will complement the work of existing partners including CARE, Water.org, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities and will focus on ensuring continuous access to clean drinking water.

In many garment-producing countries, some of women’s most significant challenges relate to water. Women bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to household responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning, which require water. According to UNICEF, women and girls globally spend more than 200 million hours collecting water each day that could be spent earning additional income, caring for their families or getting an education. Moreover, women, along with their families, face serious health risks due to inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and poor understanding of healthy hygiene practices.

Building the Business Case, The ILO’s Better Work, BSR’s HERproject, and Gap’s P.A.C.E. program have all demonstrated significant business benefits.


Home textile manufacturer Welspun India NSE 2.52 %  collaborated with UN Women, a subsidiary of the United Nations that works towards gender equality and women empowerment. The association would help women at all levels of the value chain access skill-building initiatives in technical and entrepreneurial sectors. The aim is to create sustainable livelihoods to establish gender equality in the workforce, drive equal payment opportunities, encourage women to take up leadership roles


Amazon India recently signed a MoU with Kudumbashree, a poverty eradication and women empowerment programme implemented by the State Poverty Eradication Mission of the Kerala Government for its pioneering programme called, “Amazon Saheli”.

Through this partnership, Amazon India is aiming to support, train and empower women entrepreneurs associated with the organisation and provide a marketplace for them to showcase their products to Amazon customers across the country, a press release said.

Kudumbashree is one of the largest women empowerment programmes in the world with more than 1,000 Community Development Societies and reaching more than four million women across 14 districts in Kerala.

The Saheli team trains and supports women entrepreneurs associated with Kudumbashree and provides them with a slew of benefits to enable them to start selling online at zero initial cost. With this partnership, Amazon India is bringing in the regional selection and unique products across categories like grocery, home and fashion accessories made by women entrepreneurs from the state.

AEPC & Marks & Spencer collaborates to empower women

Apparel Exports Promotion Council and Marks & Spencer launched their partnership in accordance to the previously signed MoU to work together and encourage garment factories to voluntarily join a programme on Gender Equality, “POWER” through respectful workplace training.

The key project outcomes envisaged from this partnership include, women factory workers to have improved knowledge on issues of gender equality, sexual harassment, violence against women and grievance compensation, to make sure the institutional mechanisms are conducive and gender equitable in target factories to address the grievances of women factory workers and to review the Internal Committee as per the requirements of the POSH act, 2013.

The project also targets to access to communication collaterals like posters, handbook and Compliance manual templates for the factories to print and display at the conspicuous locations of their premises and implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy, gender diversity policy and Non- Retaliation policy templates for immediate implementation of the requirements of the act.

The key components of the training include awareness and understanding about gender equality, violence against women and girls, sexual harassment of women at workplace and public places, execution of safe workplace with provisions and issue-mapping exercise, key provision under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention and Redressal) Act 2013.

Anita Dongre

The Mumbai based designer Anita Dongre has been in the news for dressing the world’s first ladies on state visits to India – Kate Middleton, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, and most recently, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

While the spotlight shines on her global success, Dongre has quietly been working on empowering the tribal women of Maharashtra in regions that are effected by extreme poverty and little economic progress. Her recent-most efforts include the establishment of a production unit in Jawhar town, Palghar District where socio-economic decline had “resulted in alarming cases of malnutrition and infant deaths in the region.”

Situated 140 kms away from Mumbai, the tailoring unit has been set up under the Anita Dongre Foundation. In an exclusive conversation with Lifestyle, Dongre revealed, “The women were jobless as no employment opportunities were available in the village.

Few were skilled in basic stitching but due to a lack of opportunities there, the women had no source of income.” As a result, the designer label collaborated with the nagar parishad or city council and Pavneet Kaur, the Deputy Collector of Jawhar to inaugurate a craft centre in early 2018. Here, the tribal women are taught a variety of garment construction techniques.

Shahi Export’s Bridging the gap

Shahi Exports feels that a major industry-wide challenge is retaining labour, especially migrant labour. The first six months are the most crucial in determining who stays on in the job and who does not, they say. Thus, as a company its is always looking at mechanisms to generate better self-selection into the programme so that people who sign up are likely to stay on, as well as to identify vulnerable groups that may benefit greatly from the job.

  Our organisation has always employed women actively but we have not initiated any specific decorum for it. Women are trained for stitching and they have to be just made aware of the work and industrial environment for which we train them. This adoption comes only by working practically. We have no special designated programs for women; but we encourage them to come forward and work because we believe they are better workers than men. We also employ them mostly in their native areas i.e. the villages. We set up factories in villages so that they don’t have to abandon their families and come to the city for work. They can easily carry forward their household chores and take care of the children while working with us. Women are skilled with tailoring and they do not require any specific training for that. We do have some training programs but that is mostly availed by the male workers. Women do have some limitations as they have to take care of their respective families as well, the challenges increases that way. Also certain safety measurements need to be taken by us but it is nothing new and these can be taken care of very easily.  In our company, the wages for both male and female workers are same depending on the work hours and skills. We do not discriminate between the sexes. Roughly on an average I would say 30% of factory workers are female in my company.
Anil Buchasia, Amrit Exports Ltd., West Bengal.

Shahi took the responsibility to bridge the existing skill gap and have been working with the state and national government since 2013 to establish skill training centers all across the country. Under the government’s flagship skill development schemes such as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDUGKY) and Integrated Skill Development Scheme (ISDS), Shahi have set up over 30 skill centers, training more than 20,000 women since 2013, 80% of whom have been employed. While most of the trainees get employment at Shahi, they also collaborate with industry peers and place the trainees in their factories.

Shahi, with a dedicated Skill Development team of over 200 people, brings several advantages to the skilling ecosystem in the industry. The training curriculum is continuously updated to cater to the industry and business requirements, ensuring that the trainees are job-ready after the training. In several centers, the traditional 45-60 days technical training is supplemented with soft-skills training (Gap Inc.’s proprietary program – Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement), along with IT and English training. Further, with over 60 factories across 9 states of India, Shahi have a continuous demand for a skilled workforce and through our skill training, we are able to provide guaranteed placement in our factories which is essential considering unemployment after formal technical training is still quite high in India.

One of the barriers for women entering the formal workforce is the lack of opportunities in the labour-intensive manufacturing sector. At a Shahi training center, a woman who has never used a sewing machine can be trained and employed within 60 days. These are often their first formal and stable employment opportunities, which provide a stepping stone for their economic advancement.

At a macro level, creating employment opportunities with low barriers to enter can lead to higher participation of women in the formal workforce, which can ultimately boost the GDP by more than 18% by 2025. For example, in Bangladesh a boom in garment manufacturing has increased the number of working women by 50% since 2005.

This project realises the role of the employers in not just skilling and employing people, but also retaining workers, thereby generating insights that can have sector- and economy-wide implications.

The Skill India initiative

The Skill India initiative aims to enhance employability and create jobs through 10 initiatives in skill development and entrepreneurship. Currently, Skill Development Programmes (SDPs) are being implemented by some 22 ministries and departments of the central government. The draft New Education Policy (2016) proposes to integrate skill development programmes with the curricular of 25% of schools and higher education institutes.

We have factory in Tirupur and now also have opened in Madurai. We have relocated to Madurai for 90% of our production. We do skill training there. 15 days of training is given prior to the job and after that 7 days on job training is also provided. There are training initiatives from Government as well but we are unable to fit in those programs so we are doing that on our own. 600 people have already been trained and are ready to be placed. In next six months another batch of 600 to 800 people are going to complete their training and will be ready to be recruited. We are recruiting men for heavy machinery works and females for the tailoring. I would say we see 60-75% efficiency from female workers, which is around 10% more than the male workers. However, women work with more concentration and hence the chances of rework are less as compared to male workers who are more arrogant and have less regards for the regulations. They take more time for refreshments. With women workers there are challenges about the security and thus we have to ensure that there is at least 50% of female supervisors also. We have to provide transportation facilities and safe work environment to them. As for wages, we do not discriminate between the two sexes. The wages are based on skillset. In Madurai factory 80% are female workers and in Tirupur factory we have a ratio of 1:1 for both the female and male workers.”
T.R. Vijayakumar, CBC Fashion, Tirupur

Under the Long Term Skill Development Training programme there are 18 National Skill Training Institutes exclusively for women that are imparting the knowledge based on a varied skillset such as Office Management, Electronics, Fashion Design and Technology, Computer Aided Embroidery & Designing, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, Data Analytics etc. and also across in skills like welding, automobile mechanics etc. Further, the flagship program of the Ministry, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana serves to develop short term skills. There are Government Initiatives like Ayushman Bharat, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart City Mission etc. to align skill development efforts to these national missions by ensuring a steady flow of skilled workforce.

Moreover, the Skill India mission is also focussing to elevate the existing skillset Under the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Skill India through NSDC, is conducting focused pilot Apprenticeship program with UNDP and Society of Development Alternatives (DA), to benefit more than 50,000 women in 7 states/UTs over duration of 15 months.

Flexible training delivery mechanisms such as mobile training units, flexible afternoon batches along with on local need-based training to accommodate women and ensuring safe and gender sensitive training environment, employment of women trainers, equity in remuneration, and complaint redressal mechanism have also been imposed.

NSDC, through its training partners such as Mann Deshi Foundation, Shri Mahila Sewa Sahkari Bank Limited and Sri Sarada Math RasikBhita are working exclusively on skill development of women, especially in rural areas. Under a PMKVY project, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is targeting remote villages to foster women empowerment through skill development and creation of occupational opportunities.

The project is focused towards vulnerable and marginalized groups and tribal population. With over 50% participation from women, the project has been implemented in in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Recently, more than 6000 training targets have been allocated to train women in 4 PMMKKs.

Protection from Abuse a Major Concern

Female workers while on one end industry is also that the female workers often face harassment and violence due to a tremendous power imbalance in the factories. A root cause of this is the power imbalance is that the majority of workers are women while the middle and senior management are disproportionately male. A 2016 study by the non-governmental organisation, Sisters of Change, found that 60% of women factory workers suffered verbal, physical or sexual violence.

We encourage women to work in all areas wherever we find suitable candidates, starting from reception, accounts, sewing, checking, handworks and finishing.  We do not provide any defined skill development but keep educating the workforce, both men and women in their respective fields. I firmly believe that women are more efficient in handwork than men but the real challenge is excessive absenteeism in employing them which is why still in most of factories women vs men ratio is quite less. At our unit also the ratio of female and male workers is around 1:10. As far as wages are concerned it is equal for both the genders. At the shop floor female workers perform better than male workers in handwork department.
Rajeev Bansal, MD, Celestial Knits, Noida

In Bangalore, some 1,200 factories employ over five lakh women between the ages of 18 and 40. They work a gruelling eight hours to 10 hours daily, and are paid a minimum wage – under Rs 7,500 a month. One in seven women garment workers in Bengaluru factories faces harassment. Actively prevented from unionising, underpaid and overworked, the largely rural-origin, barely school-educated women workers are not only vulnerable to verbal and sexual abuse within the factory, but are also less likely to protest and receive redressal.

However, even in a sector that depends so heavily on women, sexual harassment is callously normalised and poorly addressed. Recruitment practices that source young women workers from distant rural villages or other states, and hostels where these workers are confined in, create an enabling environment for exploitation.

The female labour force participation (FLFP) rate in India has fallen from 36% in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16, as per the Economic Survey of India 2017-18. Female workers are highly disadvantaged in the labour market saying they are in large part low-skilled informal workers, engaged in low-productivity, low-paying work. India’s gender gap in median earnings of full-time employees is larger than in South Africa, Brazil and Chile, meaning most women earn far less than men in India than in these countries.

In GBL’s participatory rural appraisals, women reported spending nearly two hours cooking on a typical day while men spent less than half, 52 minutes. At a macro level, Indian men on an average spend around 50 minutes per day doing unpaid work, as opposed to Indian women who spend nearly six hours, according to OECD estimates. In other words, women do not work at paid jobs because they do not have the time.

100 percent subsidy is provided to Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Below Poverty Line (BPL) women for construction of worksheds under National Handloom Development Programme.”

Areas that require attention while empowering/employing women

According to Ficci Female employment in the garment industry, the scheme document states, is the highest in India compared to other sectors and it stands at 70 per cent of total workforce. However, migration to cities in search of work from villages brings its own problems like separation from families, new environment, new cities, new culture and food habits, safety and security arising out of lack of proper accommodation etc.

Although many would wish to continue their jobs in metros, they soon give up and return back to their roots. It results in heavy attrition of 8 to 10% per month and industry and country has to bear heavy cost by losing skilled workforce,

FICCI emphasizes on worker housing which include financial and operating models. It suggests that financing construction of the worker hostel could be shared between three parties – the central government, the states and union territories, and the implementing agencies (firms in garment/apparel sector).

The ministry may transfer the funds to the consolidated funds of the state governments. Workers entitled to accommodation/hostel facilities ideally shouldn’t have gross income that exceeds Rs. 30,000/- consolidated per month. The period of stay could be specified by the operator or the garment industry but should not be more than five years.

According to ICRW’s research several issues needs to be handled in order to empower women like informality of the sector which leads to power imbalances and other situations that disadvantage and hurt workers, but the disproportionate harm it does to women workers is less recognized.

Areas that needs to be worked upon are informality, ending violence against women and Join Global Efforts to Recognize Childcare Needs:

Informality poses an intricate challenge that often sits beyond a brand’s direct sphere of control. It is therefore pertinent to end violence: Economic empowerment is impossible in the face of gender-based violence (GBV) at work and at home, as this prevents women from realizing their full potential.

There is more to be done to address sexual harassment and violence against women workers. Successful efforts should consider not only workplace interventions but should also aim to understand vulnerabilities and patterns of harassment and violence outside of the workplace, tap into public systems, and work to strengthen those systems.

Along with that join Global Efforts to Recognize Childcare Needs. To reach gender equity and maximize economic potential, this imbalance must be reconciled. Given that apparel workers are predominantly women in their reproductive years, lack of access to affordable, quality childcare remains a barrier for effective, long-term participation at work. Apparel sector companies can reduce this barrier by supporting access to high quality, family-centered childcare.

The global apparel sector faces a variety of well-document challenges in relation to its workforce, including low pay; piece-rate pay and/or failure to pay overtime; health and safety concerns such as fire safety, exposure to chemicals, and inadequate infrastructure; highly controlled, stressful, and repetitive work environments; irregular work volume and schedules; lack of access to benefits such as health insurance and maternity leave; and instances of workplace-based harassment, violence, and discrimination.

Every company can act to benefit women in owned operations and throughout their value chain. Companies can also enable and influence women’s empowerment across the market by incentivizing, collaborating, and communicating clearly with other companies, partners, individuals, and policymakers across the sector and supply chains. This report presents recommendations for actions that recognize the different levers and roles companies play in gender equality and women’s empowerment, and their ability to act, enable, and influence women’s economic empowerment.

Currently, most apparel sector company activities fall in the “act” category—they seek to address barriers or issues within direct operations and Tier 1 suppliers.

ICRW’s research shows that the more successful initiatives—including the ILO’s Better Work, BSR’s HERproject, and GAP Inc.’s P.A.C.E.—share some commonalities: » All are based on collaboration between brands, suppliers, and NGOs. » Their central focus areas are health (in particular sexual and reproductive health, which is foundational for a woman’s ability to fulfill her economic potential), financial inclusion, life skills, and professional advancement. » Program evaluations show these programs are also delivering business benefits, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and improved employee satisfaction.12 » And, most importantly, all share an underlying assumption that building women’s agency and voice is a key lever for empowerment.

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