India’s textile industry is one of the largest in the world and is expected to grow with each year that passes. But despite a booming industry and worldwide success, women, although a large part of the workforce, are often devalued and discriminated against. It’s a problem that has persisted over centuries but can be made right if we collectively bring awareness to the issue at hand and ask for better from brands in addressing these inequalities.
Today, we will discuss women’s important contribution to fashion and how sustainable fashion cannot be so unless it prioritises people and equality as well as our planet.
What are the facts?
“[India’s] Textiles and garments industry is expected to reach $190 bn by 2025-26 from $103.4 bn in 2020-21.” - investindia.gov.in
With this notion in mind, it’s evident that there are plenty of jobs within the industry that would help in continually building local economies. However, despite this abundance, there seems to be a lack of opportunities given to women.
In a general sense, there is the issue of the gender pay gap that, according to an article by The Wire, only worsened in many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. `Furthermore, according to IWWAGE’s 2021 report on Women in the Indian Informal Economy, the amount of women working in informal employment is 4 times higher relative to men, which makes them vulnerable as they do not often get anything in return for their labour.
“Women’s labour, though critical to the survival of the industrial and Indian economy, has long been invisibilised in writings, undercounted in statistics and underpaid in salary registers. However, recent writings of feminist and labour historians show that women workers were central to the functioning of the colonial Indian economy; from farming to mining, sewing to sex work, the leather industry to the tea plantations.” - thewire.in
Historically, when it comes to textiles, women were often tasked in supporting male crafters, carrying out the initial stages of production to then hand over the work so that they could weave fibres into their final product. For example, colonial official and linguist George Grierson noted in 1879 how cotton was collected, dried and cleaned by the older women of the Madhubani region for 2 to 3 days within the process.
According to an IPS article, this delegation of highly labour-intensive tasks was due to the fact that women were cheaper labour - the reasoning being they were often an additional or secondary source of income within their families. Women are considered easier to control, are less likely to join trade unions and have been conditioned to take up repetitive, monotonous work. And so, due to this combination of social norms and expectations, very few women climb career ladders to become either more skilled or leaders in their field - “[in garment factories] women dominate the frontline workforce, it’s majorly men who hold supervisory roles in factories.”
And so, even today, there’s much work that needs to be done in order to close the gap and reach a point where women are appreciated for their contributions.
What does supporting women mean?
With all this in mind, it stands to reason that the enthusiastic inclusion of women can bring a lot of benefit to the industry. Since they have always been an integral part of various textiles processes, they have integral knowledge to share.
And so, by supporting women in craft…
- You are supporting their livelihoods. Supporting women means we uplift and inspire them to contribute towards their family incomes - this will evolve the stigma against women in the workforce, showing how they can also be breadwinners and leaders, further inspiring change and growth.
- You are supporting growth in the industry. Women bring different qualities to the workspace due to the varied experience they have to their male counterparts. By learning from their experience and heeding their advice, it can benefit the overall workflow, making it more efficient and effective.
- You are supporting marginalised workers. Many women in the textile workforce are also single mothers. Including them and acknowledging their contributions in workspaces allows them to be able to support themselves and their families as well as break the stigma attached to their status.
- You are creating a more effective and inclusive industry. Women make up so much of the workforce, meaning there’s so much potential in their empowerment. They can be leaders, trainers, masters, and more if only they are enthusiastically included in the overall process.
How can you support women in craft?
Although there’s much that needs to change on an industry and policy level, there are also things we can all do as individuals to help and empower women in craft.
First off, there’s plenty you can do individually! You can:
- Do your research! Learn more about the craft field, how it works, and how women are currently experiencing the industry. There’s plenty of info out there - you can start by reading up on IWWAGE’s insights and reports that “aims to build on existing research and generate new evidence to inform and facilitate the agenda of women’s economic empowerment.”
- You can also just simply encourage others to support female artisans and crafters - peak others’ interest and hopefully they will spread the word too.
Secondly, there are brands and NGOs that spotlight female craft that you can support. Here are a few you can check out now:
Your support and your voice are so important when it comes to the empowerment of women. Working together can bring great change so we hope you join us in supporting them in craft and in textiles.