Gender Equality and Inclusion

Gender and inclusion: The key to unlocking the garment sector’s success

Gender and inclusion are at the centre of the design and implementation of all Better Work interventions. In an industry dominated by women, nearly eight in ten workers across all factories enrolled in Better Work are women, with the majority under the age of 30.

Despite their prominent role in the sector, women’s experiences tend to differ from their male counterparts, with women having less opportunity to progress at work, receiving lower pay and suffering higher levels of abusive treatment.
Better Work’s interventions aim to be gender transformative at their core and remove barriers to women’s participation and advancement in the workplace and beyond. We have seen that the effective empowerment of women is the key that unlocks our success, functioning as a driver of compliance, increased productivity and profitability, eventually strengthening dialogue, health and education outcomes for workers and their families.

Analysis demonstrates how our activities improve representation and equality by giving a sense of empowerment and skills sets to women workers on the factory floor. But we do not stop there. We help promote behavioural change and address entrenched social norms, with spillover effects also registered in workers’ households.

Since 2018, Better Work has implemented a dedicated gender strategy addressing issues of discrimination, paid work and care, voice and representation, and leadership and skills development. The programme has embedded gender equality principles in all its factory operations, and has disseminated evidence among constituents, promoting a greater understanding of gender equality including during times of crisis. We have also invested in our own capacity building to model gender transformative behaviours.

More recently, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women’s health and care duties as well as the incidence of harassment and discrimination brought gender and inclusion to the forefront as priorities to tackle with greater urgency. 

Over its years of implementation, Better Work has built a position of trust and confidence with sectoral and national constituents, global brands, retailers, manufacturers and within the academic community and civil society. We renew our efforts for an inclusive sector empowering and providing equal and decent work opportunities for all.

Better Work will keep striving for an industry free from gender-based violence and harassment and other forms of discrimination, with equal pay and consideration of unpaid care work across the industry.  

Better Work’s impact

In alignment with ILO-wide activities promoting Convention 190, strengthening awareness and knowledge on violence and harassment across the factory floor has been one of our focuses. Such issues remain prevalent and serious in the industry, with concerns having only increased during the pandemic. However, Better Work interventions have had a measurable impact in preventing and addressing workplace violence and harassment.

In Jordan, workers’ concerns with verbal abuse and use of vulgar language on shop floors were reduced by 17 per cent thanks to Better Work’s and IFC’s training raising awareness about gender-based violence and changing norms of acceptable behaviour. In Cambodia, increased management awareness of workplace sexual harassment led to an increase in worker reporting, signaling enhanced empowerment and voicing of concerns. This has reduced the likelihood of sexual harassment in the local garment sector. 

Systematic differences in take-home pay between women and men are still a common occurrence across the industry. Better Work has contributed to narrowing such gaps, particularly in Haiti, Nicaragua and Viet Nam, with a reduction in pay inequality registered immediately after our first compliance assessment. In Viet Nam, 85% of this pay gap closed by the fourth compliance assessment.

Better Work has boosted pregnancy-related healthcare across its country programmes. In Haiti, only six per cent of female workers reported having access to prenatal check-ups at the outset of the programme. This increased to 26 per cent after five years. Similar results were observed in Indonesia and Jordan.

The Mothers@Work programme in Bangladesh has strengthened maternity rights, providing breastfeeding support and childcare facilities in the workplace, which has supported the retention of working mothers. Our activities to improve childcare facilities in Jordan and Cambodia have also helped factories comply with national regulations, leading to increased retention and productivity.

Through our advisory guidelines, we have encouraged the representation of women in the bipartite committees established in our partner factories and across unions. This has significantly improved outcomes for workers, particularly in terms of reducing workers’ sexual harassment concerns.

Better Work has focused on increasing women’s access to skills-building opportunities and ensuring gender equal participation across all its country programmes through its flagship Supervisory Skills Training service.

Many of our offices have also introduced targeted interventions to promote women in leadership positions, working with different partners, like the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) project in Viet Nam and Bangladesh. Here, productivity increased by up to five per cent in lines supervised by trained women participants, while absenteeism declined.

In Ethiopia, Better Work and SCORE have been delivering the Women’s Leadership Development Programme to female workers, providing them with further skills to take on leadership positions. In Jordan the same goals were pursued in partnership with the Gap P.A.C.E. programme.

Action Plan

Building on the programme’s success, Better Work will keep striving for a gender equal and inclusive recovery from COVID-19 by redoubling its efforts across the industry with its partners. Better Work’s new strategy revolves around its already established four pillars.

Better Work’s Gender and Inclusion Action Plan is responsive and designed to evolve over the lifetime of our strategy, Sustaining Impact, 2022/27. In consultation with global and national partners, we will continue to refine our action plans to ensure they support long-term, progressive change.


Preventing (gender-based) violence and harassment; tackling contractual discrimination; bridging the gender pay gap; promoting disability, migrant and other forms of inclusion.


Supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternity protection, breast-feeding and child-care and parental leave.


Strengthening the representation of women in factory committees and trade unions, union federations and employer organizations and in collective bargaining processes. 


Establishing career opportunities in factories, leadership positions in governments, trade unions and employers’ organizations; building technical, transferable, and management skills; spreading financial literacy and household budget planning knowledge

Better Work will place a stronger emphasis on social dialogue and management systems to sustain a more inclusive workplace structure.  Outside of the factory, Better Work will promote and support the strengthening of referral pathways as well as fight gender stereotyping and discriminatory behaviours faced on the commute to and from work, in society and at home.

To achieve enhanced gender transformative approaches, Better Work will conduct research to better understand key barriers to gender and inclusion – not only in the workplace but in other spheres. We will deepen our focus on male engagement to address underlying root-causes of inequality and focus on all forms of inclusion and intersectionality, including based on ethnic minority, migrant, disability or HIV status, as well as on any other grounds of discrimination based on national contexts.

Better Work will identify and strengthen partnerships within the ILO and with external initiatives and organizations to scale and deepen impacts in these areas.  

Latest news

Better Work’s current Strategic Phase: Sustaining our impact in 2022-27 and beyond

Strategic Priorities

Better Work five-year strategy (2022-27) embraces innovation around a set of strategic priorities to adapt to the needs of the garment and footwear industry around the world.


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