Monday, January 17, 2005

When fear follows fabric along the assembly line

The Los Angeles Times front page reports on the disturbing news that hundreds of thousands of women in poor countries could lose their jobs because an international system of import quotas is expiring--meaning that wealthy countries will not be compelled to buy manufactured products from any specific poor country.

In many of these nations, the article says, "women's paychecks have been a driving force behind significant gains in living standards, health indicators and educational levels," and, especially in Africa, they've helped slow the spread of HIV-AIDS.

It goes to show concretely how these [now-threatened] low-paying jobs are invaluable to women in developing nations, promoting stronger families as well as economic security and greater personal freedom.

…“Across the globe, women who work, and control their paychecks, are more likely than men to be the drivers of change for their families and communities.

Study after study has found that as the economic status of women improves, so do literacy levels, caloric consumption and other health indicators.

In Ivory Coast, expanding women's share of cash income significantly enlarged the share of the household budget going to food and decreased the amount spent on alcohol and cigarettes, according to a study published in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics.

In South Africa, cash received by women through an old-age pension program increased the funds spent on schooling and food for their grandchildren, a World Bank study showed.

Extra income in the hands of women in Brazil resulted in more of the household budget going to education, health and nutrition, according to a study by Duncan Thomas, an economics professor at UCLA.

And when mothers' incomes were increased, their children ended up growing taller and weighing more.

In Cambodia, where the garment industry is responsible for more than one-third of gross national product and 93% of exports, the effect of the 220,000 apparel jobs is visible even far from the factories in the cities.

Money sent home by apparel workers — in Cambodia, as everywhere else, the vast majority of them women — has trickled out into the countryside. There it has been spent on school fees and healthful food, aluminum roofs and cement-lined water wells.The effect is immeasurable.

Hun Srean, a 22-year-old who earns $3 to $4 a day stitching men's shirts in Phnom Penh, supports two brothers and four sisters who live in the tiny southeastern village of Chreykrahim. "It feels good that I can contribute," Hun said.

But she added that the influential role she plays goes far beyond money."When I tell them to study because my work in the factory is hard, they listen to me."…