Women in the country's readymade garment sector face a range of discriminations including being subject to do more overtime duty than their male colleagues and getting fewer promotions, say a study report of Karmojibi Nari and CARE Bangladesh.
Findings show that female workers have a narrow career prospect as very few of them are promoted to supervisory positions.
The study report was disclosed at a discussion at The Daily Star Centre in the capital yesterday.
As part of the European Union-funded “OIKKO (unity) project” on policy implication for women workers in the RMG sector, the researchers conducted the study by analysing secondary data on women workers' issues, doing focus group discussions and taking interviews of key informants in Dhaka in August-September.
Presenting the findings, Mostafiz, an assistant professor of social work at Jagannath University, said female garment workers got eight weeks' maternity leave, while for women in the public sector it was six months.
He said the labour law also lacked the provision of voluntary leave for menstruating women, which was introduced in countries like Japan, Italy, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia.
The factories are also not free from the scourge of sexual harassment, which “ranges from simple insults and demeaning remarks to unwelcome touching and grabbing”, according to the report. Moreover, few factories have daycare facilities and designated places for nursing mothers to breastfeed their babies, it says.
The women workers face a lot of other problems as well.
The findings say long working hours affect women's health more adversely than male workers' and women face a severe problem of work-life imbalance.
Most factories also do not have women doctors for women workers, have fewer toilets for women than necessary, and do not provide sanitary napkins for women during their menstrual cycles, according to the report.
Representation of women workers in negotiation channels like trade unions is also “disproportionate”, it says.
Speaking at the programme, Khondokar Golam Moazzem, research director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said women workers' problems had to be addressed properly in laws and rules and also norms had to be set in the workplace for ensuring their rights.
“While sexual harassment has to be defined in rules, providing sanitary napkins for them should be a norm to be maintained by the authorities,” he said.
Sayed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said considering women's contribution in the RMG sector, their rights issues had to be linked nationally with other labour-related issues.
Speaking as the chief guest, Miah Abdullah Mamun, additional secretary of the labour and employment ministry, said if they got suggestions of the report through formal channels, they would try to incorporate those in laws and policies.
“The ministry is working on to bring changes in the existing labour law, and it will take some time,” he said.
He also said they were planning to set up three new labour courts in Barisal, Rangpur and Sylhet alongside the seven functional courts at present.
Pratima Paul Majumder, president, Karmojibi Nari; Audrey Maillot, second secretary, EU Delegation to Bangladesh, and Rajekuzzaman Ratan, general secretary, Samajtantrik Sramik Jot, among others, spoke at the discussion, moderated by Rokeya Rafiq, executive director of Karmojibi Nari.