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Bengaluru women garment workers protest against exploitation

Within two weeks ago of 13 workers being killed in a fire at a factory manufacturing leather jackets on the outskirts of New Delhi world’s attention is being drawn by the horrendous working conditions endured by millions of garment workers in various RMG units. Now, in Bengaluru, garment workers are beginning to take a stand.

In a striking example of this growing self-advocacy, work in Bengaluru came to a halt on April this year as a massive protest by thousands of women working in the city’s garment sector blocked arterial roads.

Over 1,200 factories where 90 per cent of the 500,000 workers are women, function on the outskirts of the city. For decades, women have worked in exploitative conditions, earning a minimum monthly wage as low as Rs 4,000. But in a city full of migrant IT workers, their plight was largely ignored until news about an amendment in government rules concerning PF brought them out onto the streets. Not only did the government roll back proposed changes, the strike also brought stories of these women into the mainstream.

A study on occupational health and safety in the garment industry by Cividep, a Bangalore-based NGO on worker’s rights and corporate accountability, has come to the conclusion that the city’s garment workers often suffer from respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis, ergonomic issues like back pain, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and reproductive health issues such as white discharge, irregular periods and excessive bleeding. Occupational health problems are common amongst workers in the garment industry in other parts of the world as well. Women in the garment sector also have to fight off sexual harassment from male colleagues.