consideration for the well-being of the workers many women are made unemployed or under-employed. However, the INTECH research project also shows that conditions may vary in each industrial sector and in each country. Despite the general trends, the wide variations among the range of countries are made apparent by such factors as the level and quality of trade union organisation, the standard of women’s education and what women expect from themselves and for themselves as individuals.
The capacity of women workers to turn these workplace changes to their own long-term advantage depends basically on the socio-economic status of women in each country. But there is no room for fatalism: women’s organisations of different types and descriptions and trade unions are able to organise and gain improved working conditions and new social legislation to improve the prospects of all working women now and in the future.
The following excerpts are from a selection of the reports of the investigations. They show that women are usually causght in a cleft stick: they want and need jobs brought about by new investment, increased demand for consumer goods and new production methods; but the quality of their work and their future employment prospects is determined by their gender. It is not the new technology that is at fault but the social definition of their labour.
Women workers and new technology
Women have often had to bear the negative effects of technological change. The Green Revolution resulted in the loss of agricultural jobs for women, whose labour was replaced by new forms of mechanisation. In the industrial sector, jobs have been created for women but women workers tend to be pushed aside by men as an industry becomes more capital-intensive. Yet, in cases where technology has led to the creation of jobs for women, the working conditions can be difficult and hazardous.
The export-oriented garment industry still depends on manual labour.
New technology can be a double-edged sword. In Bangladesh many women working in banking reported that new technology created new opportunities for them to upgrade their knowledge, skills and abilities through training and re-training. This would help ensure future job security. On the other hand, the intensive use of computers in banking implies higher technical and analytical skills, such as understanding computer operations, systems analysis, programming and data processing. Many of these jobs are not considered suitable for
women and so are given to men. And, these men are promoted more quickly than women who are not given the chance to learn and develop these skills. The result is that women’s recruitment to banking is falling, compared to that of men and at the same time, women’s opportunities for promotion are more limited than before.
Because of the work they do, women continue to encounter health and safety problems associated with the technology. Eyestrain, repetitive strain injury and headaches (possibly a symptom of an underlying condition) are commonly reported. In some banks, measures have been taken to relieve the hazards that cause these effects.
In Bangladesh, although 90% of garment workers are women, 88% work in production processes, doing sewing and finishing. Only a few have post-production or supervisory jobs. There are no women cutters or quality control operators. Moreover, there is no women in departments dealing with computerised machinery.
Although working conditions should be governed by labour laws, garment workers in Bangladesh work longer hours than any other industrial worker in the country - often from 8am to 10pm with two breaks of 30min and 15 min. And although night work is banned for women, 78% of women interviewed are forced to work overtime at night.
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Asian Women Workers Newsletter Vol. 16 No. 4 October 1997