Promoting career pathways for women in the Myanmar’s garment industry

The garment industry is an important engine for Myanmar’s sustainable development. The industry creates formal employment for almost half million people, more than 90% of whom are young women who migrated from their remote native states and regions with the explicit purpose of working in a garment factory. In 2017, the industry generated almost $3 billion in export revenues and is a critical driver of economic growth.

Article | 17 May 2019
Alena (Ma Aye Thiri Khaing), Industrial Engineering Supervisor, Suzhou Silk
Although the hundreds of thousands of women active in the country’s garment industry are making an essential contribution to Myanmar’s development efforts, they still face multiple challenges in voicing their needs, accessing basic social and workplace rights through workplace coordinating committees and trade unions, acting as head of businesses, leading the many reform process from within the government, raising their ideas in various business associations and others organizations. Women in Myanmar experience a number of barriers to becoming accomplished in whatever role they chose to be.

The recently launched ILO report Weaving Gender: Challenges and Opportunities for the Myanmar garment industry highlighted that investing in skills development and recognition could pave the way for women to maximize the benefits they can get from the job market. For the moment, female employees tend to consider their employment in the garment industry to be short-term – it is something they plan on doing while young, unmarried and without children. This is partly because there is no clarity on what a career pathway might look like for various types of employees in the factories. While there may be a limited number of supervisory and management roles available for employees, a clear and communicated career pathway may help explain the different types of positions and job roles employees can occupy in the future. This may motivate women to view their work in the factories as linked to professional development and empowerment, and as long-term. This in turn could help employers retain skilled labour – a critical factor for the continued development of the industry – increase workers’ satisfaction with their jobs and therefore enhance the productivity of Myanmar’s garment industry.

As a first step of a longer process to promote workplace gender-equality in the sector, the ILO Garment Industry Project launched five profiles of accomplished women engaged in the garment industry. These profiles are meant to inspire the new generations of women coming to play an active role in the world of work, providing examples of how these female leaders cope with life in and beyond the workplace. The profiles include a number of powerful and inspiring women who already hold prominent roles in the Myanmar’s garment industry, be they factory-level operators, supervisors, heads of enterprises, and directors of trade unions or employers’ organizations.

Credit Photo: Thet Htoo -