Self-Employed Women's Association

"Empowering Women" in the Garment Industry

GMT 16:37 2017 Friday ,31 March

Sriyadithatextile - "Empowering Women" in the Garment Industry

Women in Garment Industry

When you walk into the SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association) Ruaab production centre in Sunder Nagri, Northeast Delhi, you will see between 10-15 women sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of embroidery stools. Some may have a child in their laps, while others just chat about their days as they weave coloured thread, beads and sequins onto the fabric that is stretched tightly over the stools before them. Many more women will be doing this same task from inside their homes across the Delhi region, simultaneously balancing the unpaid and invisible care work that reproduces their households. The women are members of the Ruaab SEWA Artisans Producer Company Limited (Ruaab), a livelihoods initiative that allows women to earn a piece-rate income by stitching and embroidering designs on clothes for multinational clothing companies like Zara, Gap, Max, and Mango.

Ruaab, an economic empowerment initiative for low-income women in Delhi, stresses the superior ethics of their production mode, which "facilitates linking the women to the mainstream market," while offering a production model that is relatively more transparent than is the case for most other informal garment workers in India. Ruaab negotiates directly with export houses, eliminating the use of intermediaries who would normally take a cut of the women producers' already abysmally low wages. Thus, the program provides certain protections against some of the more predatory actors in the global garment value chain. Organisational links between Ruaab and its parent organizations, SEWA Delhi and SEWA Bharat, also provide women in the Ruaab program access to  other social support services and programs that SEWA offers.

However, despite opportunities offered by the program, women in Ruaab remain informal workers with very little social protection and job security. So although multinational clothing companies that are concerned about their public image can take comfort in Ruaab's public promotion of "women's economic empowerment," and the  guarantee of a more ethical and transparent supply chain, Ruaab is an attractive production choice for them precisely because the women producers' labor will be informal, home-based, and poorly compensated. Clothing companies can reap the PR benefits of supporting the image of local women garment producers in Delhi, all the while maintaining the informal labor arrangements that are essential to their own accumulation of wealth. The 61st session of UN Women's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is in process in New York this week, with a stated priority theme of women's economic empowerment. But how well will member states, speakers, NGO representatives, and other participants address the inherent dissonance in promoting women's economic empowerment via increased participation in value chains that are built upon undervalued female labor?  


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