The global textiles and clothing industry is the second largest industry after agriculture with a majority of low-skilled positions being held by women who are worryingly under-represented with economic opportunities.
Women in the textiles industry make up a staggering 70% of the employment numbers; however work longer hours both in labour and domestic jobs while earning 20% less than their male counterparts. This gender inequality usually leads to challenges faced by women especially in developing countries, which include poverty, their wellbeing, and basic rights towards their livelihoods as women in the 21st century.
In developing countries where many textile factories are located for overseas contract of supply demand, women tend to miss out on the economic and social benefits that men receive that include poor working conditions, lack of economic opportunity in leadership, and a salary less than minimum wage.
Due to this gender marginalisation, women then become the victims of businesses taking advantage of low production costs and skipping out on ethical standard procedures and responsibilities to meet supply demands.
This brings us to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 where 90% of lives lost were women. In 2015, The United Nations introduced the 2030 Agenda, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where Goal 5 is to promote gender equality and empower women by ‘ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities […]’.
There’s no denying that the textiles and clothing industry has contributed to the economic and social advancement for many, and does contribute to the empowerment of working women by narrowing the gender inequality in many spheres. But women are still under-represented in their vital role towards the development of the industry towards a more sustainable future.
So what’s next for the United Nation’s agenda and the textiles industry? The World Bank has stated that gender equality is essential for a country’s economic growth, so by ensuring that gender equality is achieved; there is a possibility for sustainable development in any industry as women play an important role in economic, environmental and social development with their knowledge.
Therefore, by providing assistance and resources for women to empower them in the working environment, while working together to educate on the responsibilities of ethical purchases for consumers, can result in large developmental payoffs. By influencing the change in ethical standards on the textiles supply demand; consumers can push businesses to provide a safer and more productive environment for women in a way that ameliorates disadvantages and addresses gender equality for a greater social and economic impact
Obviously, it’s not an easy task that can be achieved overnight, but it is an initiative to be able to vocalise gender equity and hopefully improve the livelihoods of women in all social, economic ,and environmental cases in an industry made by women, run by women, for women.
Through the concepts of redesigning production, improving working environment infrastructures, and working towards the empowerment of women through regulated rights of work standards and even leadership opportunities, this goal of gender equality for the industry is gradually being tackled universally.
As Suzy Menkes had stated at this year’s Youth Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, “by caring for what kind of shirt you buy, you will improve the state of the planet [too]” therefore becoming a win-win in this issue that needs to be tackled for women’s empowerment in the industry.