In spite of being nimble in the operation of their fingers, large numbers of women enrolled in the manufacturing sector remain deprived of their due recognition. Sizeable segments of these semi-skilled female workers live far from the well-known centres of industrial production and are forced to undergo the worse forms of the deep-seated gender discrimination at workplaces. The manufacturing sector has lately been singled out as one such area, where female labourers remains perennially deprived. An in-depth study conducted on women workers living in the areas far from industrial hubs has identified these women as silent victims. It is the impact of an uneven industrial system, which has been perennially leaving out women from the multi-step production chains. It could aptly be called skewed against women workers at the manufacturing units, including the export-oriented ones.
Salient features of a study titled 'Exports and Gender Gap in Manufacturing Employment' were released at a seminar in Dhaka on May 25. Organised by the BIDS (Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies), the programme was presided over by BIDS director general Dr. Binayak Sen, with BIDS senior research fellow Dr Kazi Iqbal and Gonosasthya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury as speakers among others. The research fellow told the seminar employment of a greater number of women in the manufacturing sector helps maintain equity, enhance women empowerment and increase their participation in household decision-making. The last one could be recognised as a great privilege for married women.
Like the location of other industries, those related to manufacturing are also scattered all over the country. Only a few have been set up in nominal clusters in the manufacturing industry-based urban areas in the country. Those include Dhaka, Gazipur and Chattogram industrial belts. As female workers' accommodations are far from these manufacturing zones and communication modes are poor, many otherwise skilled women workers remain deprived of the opportunity to work in these industrial zones. Likewise, the seminar has also been told, the purpose of the study is to gauge whether geographic proximity of a locality to the export-oriented industries could be helpful in creating higher employment for people, women in particular, in the areas nearby. Happily, many industry-based urban centres have pressed into service factory-operated buses or minibuses to help their workers travel to workplaces and back to their villages.
These essential communication services eventually prove helpful in creating productive workforces. An ideal and secure mode of travelling to one's factory finally contributes to a sharp increase in the female workers' presence at the industrial units. All this helps in mitigating gender disparity at the workplaces. It's because despite the impressive growth in a number of manufacturing industries, the relatively small participation of productive women workforce stands as an impediment to realising the full potential of these units. Thus appointing women in increasing numbers to female-friendly jobs can ensure gender balance and enhance women's empowerment in the socio-economic sector. So, the increase in the skilled female factory hands ought to be rewarded by wages befitting the nature and load of work. In no way should there be sham accounting to short-change them. Ill practices will amount to spoiling of all sincere efforts to place women in the mainstream productive activities of a manufacturing industry. The sooner the development policymakers and factory owners realise this vital issue the better.