As the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh makes all too clear, the factory jobs in our global supply chain carry significant risks for the millions of people who fill them — the majority of whom are women under the age of 30.
Their work lives consist of sitting and standing in dense lines for up to 12 hours a day (sometimes more), cutting fabric, sewing garment pieces together, placing buttons and collars, printing T-shirt designs, and cleaning stray threads. And they often find themselves vulnerable during their commutes, experiencing verbal and physical harassment from men.
Despite the risks, women actually want to work, and they understand that it comes with significant dangers. In February, for example, I met a 31-year-old woman in Bangladesh who told me she came to Dhaka with her husband (whom she married at 15) to create a better future for their family.
He now works in Bahrain in the construction sector, and she uses her factory wages to care for their two daughters. She was clearly proud that her work provided for her children and her independence allowed her to make better choices for them. “I will keep my daughter in school as long as she wants,” she told me. “And I won’t marry her off like my mother did me.”
Factory jobs give millions of women what they can’t get anywhere else: a salaried wage. With it, they can begin to exert control over their future. Factory work isn’t just about making clothes; it’s also about a potential path toward gender equality.