Weaving Gender Equality Into the Garment Sector in India

A project led by Social Accountability International has ​ been working, over the last three years, to tip the balance in favor of women who work in the ready-made garment sector in India. The focus of the project has been on three main manufacturing cities: Bangalore, New Delhi and Tirupur.

Appropriately called RAGS, the project was launched in 2010 and so far has provided training and helped change attitudes and understanding in this industry. During the thee-year RAGS project, SAI's team led by Rishi Sher Singh organized 22 gender discrimination workshops across the three cities, reaching a total of 605 participants representing 201 factories.

These numbers surpass the initial targets by over 50% and because of that it received a supplementary grant from the UK Aid's Department for International Development (DFID). Among the companies that have supported the project are Gap, Timberland, PGC Switcher, Primark, Burberry, Triburg (buying house) to support their supplier factories.

“Stories from the factories that participated in the program convey the depth of the project's impact at the factory level, where the future career outlook for women was dramatically improved through project outcomes such as improved internal policies and gender dialogue, achieved by establishing a platform for workers and managers to communicate on sensitive issues,” SAI said in a press statement.

There are many stories that illustrate how the project has succeeded in making the Indian workplace a better place for women, One of them is Vam Hi Fashions in Gurgaon. Before the RAGS Project, the Vam Hi Fashions workforce was approximately 24 percent women. After the company joined the project, that number increased to 32 percent, and has set a target to cross 50 percent. It also has sought to increase the number of women across all departments. A recent promotion of a female worker to a human resources position helped with recruitment and retention of female workers.

“The biggest benefit as a factory manager has been the openness about gender discrimination happening in the factory which we initiated between all levels...previously [they were] not comfortable to talk. It provided us with a platform for worker interaction about worker discrimination - it's more of a teamwork effort thanks to the interventions of SAI,” said Sumit Sahni, a factory manager at Vam Hi during a meeting with SAI senior staff in late July.

"The tragic gang rape case in 2012 galvanized the Indian community to think about the broader forms of discrimination towards women," said Mr. Singh. "Factories are a window to change of the society, and have the potential to reach so many workers and their families to raise awareness. While we went beyond our initial targets, there are still many more factories out there that should participate in such a program."

Image credit: SAI