Developing champions of change in factories could have a great impact on reducing gender inequality in India.
Even though India is home to many powerful and influential women, there are still those who suffer from gender inequality.
The brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in 2012 exposed the ongoing problems of sexual violence in India. Unfortunately, this was just the tip of the iceberg. What was even more shocking was that there was no remorse shown by the perpetrators—instead blaming women themselves for getting raped.
As a result, insanity spread throughout India, which led a ban on women wearing jeans, while there was also talk of a curfew on travel times for women. A village in Bihar even banned women from using their cellphones. A friend, who has just returned to India from Britain, said her parents would not allow her to work in certain areas of the country.
Inequality in the Garment Industry
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s travels across India, I was eager to find answers to these problems. I visited the slums of Bangalore to understand why such stringent rules and regulations were put in place for women. My interactions with men in the slums revealed that they were merely “worried” about the safety of their wife or daughter.
In 2010, I found myself walking on a tightrope for my first gender equality project, which was focused on the Indian garment industry.
I was working for a nonprofit organization, and the project was funded by a British aid agency. I thought it was a great topic to pursue, however, I was surprised by the lack of excitement and engagement from companies or suppliers to tackle gender inequality within the garment industry.
Discussions were often filled with self-denial on the existence of gender discrimination. One factory manager explained: “We are in the business of making money and providing employment, and we are accomplishing both. Why should we bother about gender issues?”
Providing employment is never an excuse for the exploitation of workers, especially women. It is important to note that women form the majority of workers in the garment sector. Gender discrimination is a deep-rooted issue in Indian society, hence, there is a strong need for sensitization of both men and women to gender issues.
From my experience in coaching and training with real-life examples and roleplays, a strong focus on removing unconscious bias through attitudinal changes seems to be an effective approach.
My work with the Responsible and Accountable Garment Sector (RAGS), which partnered with Social Accountability International, was a three-year project that covered 30 factories across three cities: Delhi, Bangalore and Tirupur. The project’s implementation involved gender sensitization of factory staff and brand compliance managers, which was unique in its own way.
The topic of gender cuts across society and it is important that everyone acknowledges this fact. Our work at the factories led to improved attitude changes through increased levels of respect in the workplace, enhanced involvement of workers (especially female staff) and continuous improvement of work quality. The best takeaway was creating “champions of change” in these factories, who will hopefully lead change in the wider society.
Unfortunately, there is a similar story unfolding in Bangladesh’s garment industry, where women’s rights seems to be ignored; once again, women form a majority of the workforce in this sector.
But what can we learn from India, and where should change start from?
Since factories are also subsets of society, creating champions of change could have a positive multiplier effect. Many managers and workers who attended our gender sensitization training said they would take what they had learned to their family and society.
India is poised to become the manufacturing hub of the world with the “Make in India” initiative. Thus, the country has a great opportunity to change societies by promoting a culture of dignity and respect in factories.
Gandhi aptly said: “Be the change you would like to see in others.” Change in attitudes will take time, but every step counts.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.