Women's empowerment revisited : from individual to collective power among the export sector workers of Bangladesh

Women's empowerment revisited : from individual to collective power among the export sector workers of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has become known as something of a success in advancing gender equality since the 1990s. There have been rapid gains in a number of social and economic domains, yet by most objective standards the current condition and status of women and girls within Bangladeshi society remain low. Rapid progress has come about under conditions of mass poverty and interlocking forms of social disadvantage, political instability and under-development, overlain with persistent ‘classic’ forms of patriarchy. Mass employment of women and girls in the country’s flagship export sector – the readymade garments (RMG) sector – has been one of the more visible and prominent changes in women’s lives since its late 1970s’ introduction.

Drawing mainly on the rich literature available on women’s RMG employment, this paper explores the wider and less well documented effects of such employment on public policy relating to gender equality in these areas. It concludes that the overall direction of change in the industry points plainly to the need for investments in worker productivity, with a host of implications for women’s work and gender equality more broadly.

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