Social Scientist. v 15, no. 169 (June 1987) p. 45.


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New Opportunities on Old Terms The Garment Industry in India

THE READYMADE garment industry is said to "favour" the employment of women. How far is this true and if it is true, for what reasons ? Is it because the industry is decentralized or is it because it is labour intensive ? What in other words are the technological and structural features of this new industry that determine the terms and conditions of employment for women ?

These questions are important because occupational segregation between men and women is perceived as an important and effective instrument of discrimination against women. Because of narrow options, women get crowded into certain sectors with an inevitable lowering of wages. Alternatively their concentration in some sectors which eliminates competition between men and women also permits the bypassing of the legal requirement of equality of wages. If men and women are doing different things, obviously there is no need to apply the same standard.

There has been considerable confusion as to why such occupational segregation takes place. There is also a lot of circular reasoning involved in explaining it. It is hypothesized that there is a pre-entry selective process at work and women's "willingness" to enter some occupations or accept inferior terms predispose them as victims. To overemphasize this willingness aspect (which is often demonstrated in literature by their lower commitment or reluctance to take part in struggles) is to deflect attention from the conditions that create this predisposition. It is important therefore to understand that the process of segmentation of labour is a complex one wherein economic processes intertwine with existing social prejudices in ways that deepen the inequalities between men and women.

A further ramification to the problem of segmentation is the suspicion that in addition to pre-entry discrimination, there is also at work post-entry segmentation through gender based slotting of men's and women's jobs. Is such gender based slotting a rationalization based on beliefs about appropriate work for women either because they are supposed

*S N D T Women's University, Bombay.



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