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Women, work and empowerment: A portrait of women workers in two of Sri Lanka's Export Processing Zones

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In the last three decades young, predominantly unmarried, Sri Lankan women have formed the backbone of an enormous economic shift toward export-oriented industrialization. As a result, much attention has focused upon the impacts and outcomes of this shift upon Sri Lankan women, particularly those employed in the nation's numerous Export Processing Zones (EPZs). The rapid absorption of young women into formal employment in EPZs has caused hardships for women in the workplace, at societal level and in terms of related gender subordination. However, employment has also brought about benefits, particularly to families and households where stable incomes are usually non-existent. Both hardships and benefits are reported in the article. However, while acknowledging that factory women in Sri Lanka's EPZs face serious hardships and new forms of gender inequality and discrimination, the research also discovered evidence of some of the benefits which new and stable employment provides. While most research has tended to focus on only the negative impacts industrialization brings upon women as labour in developing nations, the article presents data on and perceptions of two groups of factory women which indicate both positive and negative outcomes of their employment.
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Keywords: Sri Lanka; export processing zones; female factory workers; industrial conditions

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-09-01

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