Garment factory workers facing exploitation and violence as Myanmar’s economy grows

ByCARE Australia February 12, 2015 0 comments

Thousands of women are risking exploitation, violence and frightening working conditions as they migrate to Myanmar’s cities in increasing numbers to search of work to support their families.

The issue was highlighted by Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja on her first visit to Myanmar. Ambassador Stott Despoja visited CARE-supported communities on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, where CARE is working with women who have moved from rural areas in search of work.

Many women arrive in Myanmar’s cities with little money or social support and are forced to accept exploitative working conditions, with the basic wage of AUD32-47 per month failing to cover the costs of living. Many are working 11.5 hour days for six days per week, are invisible to authorities, and are at significant risk of violence.

The Ambassador visited CARE’s Safe Environment for Migrant Women program, which provides training, support and safe spaces for over 90,000 women to come together with others who have moved from rural areas to cities, such as Yangon and Mandalay, in search of work to support their families.

“During this period of change for Myanmar, it is important that women and girls benefit from the economic opportunities that arise and that vulnerable populations are not further marginalised,” said Ambassador Stott Despoja. “Australia is pleased to support this program, which provides opportunities to empower women both economically and socially.”

As part of her visit, Ambassador Stott Despoja met 19-year old Tin Tin Win, who now runs a small tailoring business on the outskirts of Yangon. Having moved from Myanmar’s rural Rakhine State in search of work to support her family, Ms Win was, until recently, earning just 60,000 MMK (approximately AUD74 per month), working from 8am to 8pm each day, and was struggling from day-to-day to support her family.

Through the Safe Environment for Migrant Workers program, Ms Win has been supported with skills training, and awareness training in employment rights, sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence. Ms Win has also been supported to start her own tailoring business.

CARE’s Assistant Country Director in Myanmar, Philippa Beale, welcomed the recognition from the Ambassador for Women and Girls of the urgent need to address the exploitation of women, particularly garment factory workers, as Myanmar’s economy rapidly expands.

“Here in Myanmar and across the Mekong region, thousands of women are moving to cities in search of work to support their families. They have become an invisible population, unknown to the communities they’re living in, taking work at garment factories, as entertainment or hospitality workers, as domestic workers, or by selling sex,” said Ms Beale.

“These women need our support, and it’s great to see the Ambassador recognising the importance of CARE’s work in this area, and the need for this to continue as Myanmar’s economy rapidly expands.”

The Safe Environment for Migrant Women program is delivered as part of the Australian Government-funded Enhancing Migrant Urban Women’s Rights and Gender Equity in the Mekong Region (EMERGE) Initiative, which aims to provide protection, support and training to over two million women through eight projects across four countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. This work is funded through the Australian-NGO Cooperation Program, the partnership between the Australian Government and Australia’s key international aid agencies.

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