5 minute inspiration: How factories are making women feel safer

by 24th Feb 2021
Chakrya, a compliance officer at a factory in Cambodia, is also a member of the factory's sexual harassment committee  Chakrya, a compliance officer at a factory in Cambodia, is also a member of the factory's sexual harassment committee

“I felt humiliated and could not focus on my work after I was harassed by my co-worker. I decided to report to the sexual harassment prevention committee because I trust them.” Pha*, a garment worker in Cambodia, is employed by a factory which has been working with CARE to improve how they respond to reports of workplace sexual harassment. We helped them build an environment where gender-based violence is not tolerated and women are more confident to report incidents of abuse.

Nearly 1 in 2 women working in garment factories in South-East Asia have been sexually harassed in their workplaces, while commuting and in worker communities. Sexual harassment has a massive cost to national economies, industry and individual businesses—research in Cambodia estimated the productivity costs of sexual harassment could be as much as USD $89 million per year.  

The solution may sound simple and unexciting but is proving effective: better workplace policies, clearer guidelines and comprehensive mechanisms for reporting and responding to incidents.

The Enhancing Women’s Voice to STOP Sexual Harassment (STOP) project, funded by the Australian Government, has worked to address sexual harassment in the garment sector since 2017. Taking the Sexual Harassment Prevention package originally developed with industry in Cambodia and expanding this to Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, the project worked with 42 factories in four countries to reach more than 150,000 people.

What changed?

  • Women workers are observing and experiencing less sexual harassment: The proportion of women workers in Cambodia who reported experiencing sexual harassment behaviors fell from 1 in 6 to 1 in 20. The proportion who reported observing a worker sexually assaulting someone at the factory fell from 1 in 6 to 1 in 100.
  • Women are taking action against sexual harassment: Workers are also taking action on behalf of others; following awareness sessions by CARE, a participant from a workers’ rights organisation coordinated a collective demand for labour rights at a factory. As a result, the factory senior management team took action against three employees who were perpetrating sexual harassment, dismissing all three.
  • Garment factories have effective workplace mechanisms: 35 factories have adopted a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and 40 have set up a sexual harassment prevention committee.
  • Management’s knowledge of and attitudes towards sexual harassment improved: STOP’s engagement succeeded in halving the proportion of factory managers in Myanmar who believe it isn’t sexual harassment if the worker did not immediately complain about the behavior.
  • Workers are protected by stronger laws: In Vietnam, the revised Labor Code incorporates more provisions on sexual harassment and includes a definition of sexual harassment; in Myanmar, the new Occupational Health and Safety Law highlights the need for workplace committees to focus on women’s health and safety.

How did it happen?

  • Grounding action in evidence: STOP’s approach to preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment was based on evidence of what works, drawn from a review of global literature. Engagement with businesses was supported by research into the prevalence and productivity cost of sexual harassment to the industry.
  • Building practical systems within workplaces: STOP’s Sexual Harassment Prevention package was well-received because it was straightforward and practical with clear guidance for how factories can integrate into their day-to-day operations. Factory teams were supported to set up mechanisms such as Sexual Harassment Prevention Committees and received ongoing coaching to implement their sexual harassment prevention policies.
  • Contextualising materials: The Sexual Harassment Prevention package in each country was highly contextualised to ensure materials reflected national laws and addressed local social norms.
  • Influencing industry practice to promote gender equality: Engagement with brands was key to ensuring factories viewed addressing sexual harassment as a priority. The project’s influence also went beyond this to address broader issues affecting gender equality in factories. One brand said the project was particularly appealing to businesses as it contributed to building respect and understanding within the workplace.

Want to learn more?

STOP’s Regional Reflection report was launched at the recent Learning Summit on new tools to address gender-based violence and harassment in garment supply chains, organised by CARE and Better Work. Visit the event site for links to a recording of the session and further resources.

The full Regional Reflection report and the Regional Impact Summary are available at care.org.au/stop.

CARE’s focus on gender equality in the garment industry is supported by the Made by Women strategy, which focuses on economically empowering women working in the garment industry through dignified work. To learn more about our focus on women garment workers visit care.org/madebywomen.

Jenny Conrad

I coordinate communications for CARE's Made by Women strategy, which promotes dignified work for women in the garment industry. I joined CARE in 2013 as Communications Advisor for the Cambodia office. During my time with CARE I have supported CARE Cambodia’s private sector engagement with a focus on the garment industry and led strategic communications for CARE Australia's International Programmes team.

Having started my career in marketing, prior to joining CARE I was leading communications for a global philanthropy publication. I hold a BA in English from the University of Bristol.

Email: jenny.conrad@careint.org

Twitter: @jennyeconrad