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Who wants to work in a garment factory when they grow up?

…apparently our girls do! While surveying a group of potential participants we found that almost all of the girls were interested in obtaining work in a garment factory. In fact, for many of them it was their number one career choice. This came as a real shock to me. In the states, factory work is typically viewed as a form of oppression and exploitation, but after talking with the girls I started to see the industry from their perspective.

First off, let me clarify that factory work can be very exploitative. Workers earn between $25 and $45 per month (depending on the source)and as much as $56/month with overtime, and work very long hours. The 1942 Factory Ordinance permits 100 hours of compulsory overtime a year, with plans to change this limit to a maximum of 80 hours per month (on top of a typical Sri Lankan work week of 45 hours, averaging out to a potential 63 hour workweek).

In addition to low pay and long hours, safety concerns and child labor violations can be an issue at garment factories. Other issues that are often cited include poor living conditions, sexual harassment, and stigma (as unaccompanied young women in a very conservative society).

So what could attract young women to this kind of work?

1) Despite the drawbacks, factory work may still be better than the alternatives available to girls.

2) Working outside the home and earning money to support her family may help a young woman raise her status in the community. A study by Sajeda Amin et al, also cites delayed marriages, increased self-confidence, higher value placed on education, and more confidence in dealing with men as results of exposure to factory work.

3) Finally, training on the Juki machine the machine used in garment factories, is relatively easy to obtain through community service organizations and NGOs.

Regardless of our own feelings about the types of work available to the girls, the Emerge Bead Program can provide them with the skills and knowledge to make better, more informed decisions and pursue the future that they believe is in their own best interest, whether that be working in a factory, a hospital, a school, or their own home. Our skills training provides them with a potential source of future income, and the business skills taught in our curriculum provide them with the foundational knowledge to pursue their own interests. Through mentoring and life-skills workshops the girls are exposed to the options available to them, their rights in the home and workplace, and skills they will need to succeed wherever they go.

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