Challenging the conventional perception of the number of female workers in the readymade garment industry, a new study shows female participation in the sector is around 65 per cent. A complete census on 173 factories shows that an average-sized factory employs nearly 950 workers, of which 35 per cent are male and 65 per cent are female, said the study. Dhaka-based research firm Asian Center for Development (ACD) conducted the study on “Garment Workers in Bangladesh: Social Impact of the Garment Industry.” The male to female ratio of workers varies across industry types. Based on the survey, it estimated that nearly 1.4 million male and 2.6 million female workers are currently working in the garment industry represented by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). The survey on 1,204 factory workers from 173 factories covered four types of factories such as knitwear, sweater, woven and others proportionately, all are located in Dhaka, Naryangonj, Gazipur and Chittagong districts. “Most of our findings have conflicted with conventional perception about the garment sector, the male female ratio has also came as surprise as the general observation was that female workers are at least 80 per cent in the industry,” said ACD Executive Director A K Enamul Haque at the launch of the study at BRAC Inn in the city. The study attempts to identify impact of the garment industry in terms of: poverty reduction and improvement in the standards of living, health and education of the workers, their family members and women empowerment in the workers’ families. The study found that nearly 83 per cent of RMG workers can read a letter, while 71 per cent can also write in Bengali. This is above the national average of 58 per cent (using the same definition). “The literacy varies slightly between genders. For example, while 83 per cent of male workers can write letters, the same is true for 68 per cent of female workers. Only 12 per cent of the workers are illiterate,” it says. The survey said less than 0.3 per cent of the workers have income below Tk 6,000 per month, 10 per cent of the workers’ monthly family income are between Tk 6,000 and Tk 12,000 and the evidence is clear across groups of workers-skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled. The average income of a poor household in Bangladesh is Tk 8,900 a month. Average family income of the workers in the garment industry is Tk 15,720. The average family income varies from 15,500 to Tk 20,000 per month between grades 7 and 1. However, nearly 60 per cent of the workers earn their living from the garment industry alone. According to Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2010, the average household income of an urban hardcore poor is Tk 7,226 and that of an urban poor household is Tk 8,936. “In terms of poverty line estimates, we estimate that around 5.1 per cent of the workers of the garments industry are in the urban poor household category compared to the national average of 21.3 per cent,” Mr. Haque said. The survey found in terms of asset ownership, 86 per cent have mobile phones, 68 per cent have televisions, 84 per cent have electric fans, 75 per cent have own homes and 28 per cent have gold ornaments. “Of the average monthly family expenditure of Tk11,299, some 42 per cent money are spent for food, 30 per cent for housing and 11 per cent remittance to parents/extended families.” The analysis found that garment workers spend Tk 299 on cosmetics, Tk 667on education of children/siblings, about Tk 316 on mobile phone use, Tk 526 on clothing, Tk 604 on health and Tk 98 on entertainment per family per month. About 40 per cent of families send money back home (to extended family members) and the average monthly remittance is around Tk 3, 000, according to the study. The respondents said nearly 84.2 per cent of the factories have doctors in their facilities, 38.81 per cent have health workers, and 76 per cent also provide medicine. About 66 per cent of the workers made use of these facilities when ill. Participating in the discussion, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Additional Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem said the survey report set a benchmark for the country’s RMG industry. “The report clearly showed there have been a lot of positive changes in the industry in recent times,” he said, adding that the survey also demystified many myths about the garment industry. Dhaka University Economics Professor Selim Raihan said the survey has fulfilled the lack of data on the workers and their lifestyle. Chaired by DU IBA Professor Syed Ferhat Anwar, the programme was also addressed by Senior Fellow of ACD Minhaj Mahmud, Director of Economic Research Group Atonu Rabbani, and DU Professor Sayema Haque Bidisha.