Expansion of markets and women workers: case study of garment manufacturing in India

Expansion of markets and women workers: case study of garment manufacturing in India

General social constraints, rather than labour market discrimination keep women out of the workforce

This study, based on the garment manufacturing industry, suggests that in the context of dynamic industrial activity in a poor labour-surplus economy, discrimination against women can take place outside the labour market. For example, employment depends on education and skills, to which women have unequal access. This paper aims to understand women’s position within firms, as markets expand and shift emphasis from non-tradable goods to tradables.

Usually, in developing countries, non-skilled women labourers dominate the non-tradable goods market, and are therefore the most affected by the shift to tradables. While the expectation is that women would shift into the emerging markets, the author claims that little research has been done into the repercussions of a drastic expansion in export-oriented industrialisation.

The authors findings include:

  • women are often increasingly absorbed into export-oriented manufacturing because of their alleged high turnover rates and because women workers are perceived as less likely to protest layoffs
  • employers do have a gender bias in hiring, expecting women to be more efficient, sincere, and docile. Managers in this survey rarely mentioned that women cost less
  • while employers often nominally pay men and women the same, for equally qualified workers doing equal work, women are subject to many more barriers to employment; for example, while men can work at night, labour laws in India often prohibit women working at night
  • increasing the demand for industrial labour in the economy may be a proximate way to increase wages in the unorganised sector in general and garment manufacturing in particular
  • while many managers say that they prefer to hire women, they are often unable to find equally qualified women as men, particularly for top positions. Thus, the key discrimination is not taking place in the labour market, but rather in terms of education and experience
  • in the context of limited labour supply, any kind of stereotyping of job categories leads to labour market distortion and increases inefficiency in terms of increase in costs

Ultimately, the author concludes that general social constraints, rather than labour market discrimination keep women out of the workforce.

The paper begins by briefly outlining the experiences of east and south-east Asian countries regarding export orientation and women workers. This is followed by a discussion of the sample firms of our study. The rest of the paper deals mainly with the applicability of the received ideas in the Indian context, focusing on the selected firms.

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