PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Balancing paid work and family care is a major challenge for women workers in Cambodia’s garment sector but investing in practical solutions to enhance gender equality is good for business as well as for workers, their families and their communities. These are the key findings of a report released today by Better Factories Cambodia, a joint programme of the UN’s International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.
The study, Towards Gender Equality, assessed data from 395 garment factories over the period May 2016 to April 2017 on gender issues relating to discrimination, paid work and care, voice and representation, and leadership and skills development. It found that while approximately 85 per cent of the more than 650 000 workers in the Cambodian apparel sector are women, they are underrepresented in leadership roles and they face challenges in reconciling their factory work with their roles as primary care providers in their homes.
The report identifies as underlying causes of these results the challenges relating to combining work and family care, which contribute to restricted opportunities for promotion and skills development for women. While there are relatively high levels of compliance with pregnancy and maternity leave laws, the report also highlighted the difficulties women face in securing adequate childcare after returning from maternity leave.
According to Esther Germans, head of the programme in Cambodia, the issue has implications not only for the women’s careers but also for the wellbeing of their children: “It’s not a problem unique to Cambodia, but we see from the data that an early return to work after childbirth and a lack of childcare facilities mean that women are often unable to combine exclusive breastfeeding of their infant with work in the factory”.
The report supports findings of a recent report by parent organization Better Work which indicates that increasing the number of women in leadership positions helps reduce sexual harassment and discrimination at work. A fair representation of women in leadership positions is also needed within trade unions, as more female leaders can help address women specific issues, but also break down the stereotyping of male union representatives as overly combative.
The gender compliance report underpins a new gender strategy in Cambodia, which has in turn paved the way for a global gender strategy across the seven countries that form the Better Work programme. The strategies aim to unite partners from the public and private sector to address gender issues in four ways: by working to reduce discrimination and sexual harassment; promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternity protection and work-life balance; increasing representation of women in worker and employer committees and organizations, and; helping women develop career opportunities.
“Our more than 15 years’ experience in the Cambodian garment industry has shown us that when women and men are treated fairly and equally in the work place it brings significant benefits not only to women workers and their families, but also boosts factories’ productivity and profitability,” says Germans. “By shining a light on gender dynamics in the industry, this report will provide the foundation for the government, employers and workers to make the changes both in policy and on the factory floor that will allow women to reach their full potential.”
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