GENDER EQUALITY IN THE FAST FASHION INDUSTRY
For years and years, people of a different colour, ethnicity, and sex have fought to achieve 'equality' inside their homes or workplaces. Where does this word stand in a billion-dollar market, which is primarily made for women by women?
From the stitching of clothes to tying the knots at the end of marketing strategies, from ramp walks to the final product reaching its home, women have a massive role in keeping the fast fashion industry running. The idea of cheap or more affordable clothing could make us think of fast fashion as democratic. Yet, it is not democratic when it is driven by gender discrimination and exploitation of its workers. The underlying belief of fashion being every women's hobby has made many believe that it is also probably lead by women mostly, but the truth differs. According to Fashionista, only six women made it to the top 67 CEO's list of the year 2014, and not a single woman in the top 20.
Researchers have concluded that this gender inequality is mainly in place due to structures existing within the institutions and organizations. A study shows that 20% of men hold business degrees in the United States in contrast to only 11% of the female population holding the same degree. This leads to inequality growing from the bottom. As the executive positions at top-notch brands require experience and qualification, most of these positions are filled by men who then are most probably to nurture the same gender further to take over. Years of the same cycle repeating itself, again and again, has led to the differentiation we are witnessing today.
This display of gender inequality, to some extent, explains why the vulnerability of female workers in many countries like India, Cambodia, Bangladesh etc. is taken so lightly and paid less attention towards.
People have known fast fashion brands to set up offshore manufacturing to maximize profits. Female workers, especially in these countries, are deprived of necessities such as food and shelter but have known stitching & sewing as a craft for ages. This craft helps them earn a livelihood but leaves them with no choice, as they continue working under these factories' inhumane conditions. As stated by a female worker in H&M's garment factory, "We are not allowed to go to the toilet, the targets are so high. The person in charge says things like, 'if you go to the toilet, who will do the work? Who is going to complete the target? Go to work and finish it.”
Such treatment of workers has led to massive protests in many of these countries lead by women. Recently witnessed in Bangladesh, hundreds of women marched the streets to form unions and seek minimum wages. These women were beaten up, jailed, even sexually harassed for demanding fair human rights. Jaclyn Mckoster, a gender advisor, told Good on You that Workers' rights violations are commonplace in these offshore factories. Women often feel unable to organize and advocate for themselves as a group, either due to cultural norms or strict anti-union policies within the workplace. Stories coming out of factories in Bangladesh tell us about women with bladder infections due to a lack of bathroom breaks, and managers forcing women to take the contraceptive pill.
As we revolve around the idea of fast fashion industries, there is no doubt; it has created a booming economy for many nations. Should we be quick to jump at the idea of fast fashion being only immoral? Is it merely because we compare workers' standards in developing nations with underdeveloped ones and instantly find it gruesome and troublemaking? We have to keep in mind that from country to country, the standards vary a lot. One can only imagine the value the money earned bears for every woman in these nations. Gradually the change is coming, but we cannot ignore how under broadened light, fast fashion has created jobs in the economies that aren't the same as the west; therefore, it has dramatically added to those countries' GDP as well as each household. This being said, job creation should not be an excuse for brands or consumers to keep ignoring the social and environmental injustices of the fast fashion industry, at least not anymore. Even if these jobs represent an improvement on these women’s lives, those conditions are no way to live and as a society we should strive for more.
Written by: Ekam Rai