SEW Ukraine project helping women in garment industry to learn about work rights

Research shows about 60-70 million garment workers worldwide, of which 75% are women. Low wages, extra shifts, lack of social guarantees, and lack of comfortable working conditions are some of the everyday challenges women employees face in the garment sector.

Workers’ rights violations in the garment industry continue to exist because of limited awareness and no platform to raise their concerns. Olena Grechko, Head of SEW Ukraine project group at Charity Foundation “Gorenie,” said, “Women are usually not informed about their rights, and they do not ask, as the real-life job options are limited.”

The GAC-funded SEW Ukraine project implemented jointly by CDF Canada and the Ukrainian charity Gorenie, provides a platform for female voices in the garment industry.

The five years project aims to foster economic prosperity for 2,200 vulnerable women, including Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) living in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine. The project will support women by giving them access to employment, vocational training, workplace integration training, etc. In addition, each business skills training discusses women’s rights and its violations in the garment sector.

The training helps the participants know the legal and financial aspects of starting a new business, marketing and pricing for garment enterprises, gender issues, and cooperative business models. The following information serves as a background and starting point for establishing more women enterprises to support the economic prosperity of participants and provide the platform for discussion on the main obstacles and rights violations. Over the years, garment enterprise employees and founders of micro-businesses have expressed ways of improving the situation.

“Workers in the garment sector often work 12 hours a day, which is stressful. In addition, women with small children suffer because of long working hours. “We are looking for flexible working environment with the option of time-offs for the child-care during the working day,” adds Iryna Zaikina (47), an experienced sewing business manager and participant of business skills training in Dnipro, Ukraine; who is willing to join the cooperative initiative group in the SEW Ukraine project.

“We need a solution with flexible working hours, for example, a mother needs to pick her child from a kindergarten at 5:30 PM; however, most employers insist that the end of the working day is at 6:00 or 7:00 PM”, adds Alina Zhulamanova (36), a training participant who is motivated to launch her own business in garment sector using training and consulting support of the SEW Ukraine project.

Participants mention child care facilities as a possible solution to this problem. “Kindergartens or child care facilities managed by employers in garment sector does not exist or are very few. Under the SEW Ukraine project, child care/kindergartens would be added facility as both much demand this by micro-businesses and women in this sector”, added Alina.

Increasing readiness to discuss women’s rights and their violations and the willingness to act to protect their rights may bring significant improvements in the overall situation in the garment industry. In addition, women working in the industry say that the younger generation is ready to get the violations forth through social networks and government and is open to discussing with employers.

“Lack of information about women’s rights violations is one of the main obstacles – both for civil society and in everyday business activities – that hinder improvements in social and legal standards in Ukraine’s garment industry. Civil society organizations’ social networking tools and initiatives open up real-life stories for further advocacy and informational campaigning”, said Olha Luchka, cooperative and economic development specialist at the SEW Ukraine Project.

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