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GENEVA – A new international initiative has been launched to improve gender equality in the global garment industry. Better Work, a joint programme of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation, has launched the five-year ‘gender strategy’ to empower women, reduce sexual harassment and close the gender pay gap in garment supply chains.

The strategy aims to promote women’s economic empowerment through targeted initiatives in apparel factories, and by strengthening policies and practices at the national, regional and international levels.

“Through its research and on-the-ground experience, Better Work has shown that investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Better Work director, Dan Rees. “We have seen that training female supervisors can increase factory productivity by up to 22 per cent, for example, so this strategy is about collaborating with partners to scale up what we know works.”

Women represent around 80 per cent of the workforce in the garment sector worldwide, albeit concentrated in the lowest-paying, lowest-skilled occupations. Gender-based discrimination during recruitment processes and sexual harassment in the workplace are ongoing problems in garment hubs in South East Asia. Social norms and the predominance of working mothers also contribute to a sizeable gender pay gap, with female factory workers earning up to a fifth less per hour than their male counterparts, although this pay gap varies from country to country.

The new strategy was launched at the Regional Conference on Women and the Future of Work in Asia and the Pacific, a two-day event sponsored by the Australian Government and the ILO aimed at highlighting the tools and policies needed to ensure that women have an equal share in the region’s economic potential.

An independent study of Better Work by Tufts University showed that the programme had decreased the gender pay gap by up to 17 per cent, reduced sexual harassment concerns by up to 18 per cent, and increased women’s access to prenatal care by as much as 26 per cent. The report also demonstrated that a workplace free of harassment leads to higher profitability and that quality jobs for women have knock-on development impacts including better health for workers and their family members and improved education for workers’ children.

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