International Women's Day: 5 Reasons Fashion Is A Feminist Issue

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 2 months ago | News

Image: from the 2019 Women's March in Sydney. Image source.

Fashion might not seem like a feminist issue at first, but considering the fact that women make up the vast majority of the fashion industry workforce, it is important to think about the women who make our clothes. Fortunately, there are now a number of fashion brands supporting Gender Equality and Fair work as part of their overall business models – in fact, you can find many of them right here on our site.

What is disappointing, though, is the lack of action we have seen from fast fashion companies when it comes to caring for their female workers. Still wages remain appallingly low, working conditions are fraught with danger and workplace opportunities are far from equal. So – sobering as they may be – here are five reasons we feel fashion is a feminist issue. Because armed with greater knowledge, we can make more positive choices to help initiate change.

1) Many women working in fashion still live below the poverty line
Sadly very few women working in fast fashion are being paid a living wage. In fact, according to Racked, multinational fast fashion retailers still aren't paying their garment workers a wage that they can subsist on. “A living wage benchmark quantifies what workers need to live decently, so that they can support a family above the poverty line and still be able to have some discretionary spending and the ability to save,” explains Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum. This is usually not conducive to a country’s minimum wage, despite fast fashion retailers trying to convince us that this is the case.

2) For these women, requesting a pay rise often results in violence
According to Oxfam, the pay disparity between male and female garment workers is particularly severe in Asian factories. Here, women earn on average 70-90% of what men do. When women do request a pay increase, however, those acts of bravery are often met with outright violence. In some cases, the police will even have to get involved. We saw this most recently in Bangladesh, where striking garment workers forced factories to increase wages – but only after police violence resulted in one death and many more injuries. Unfortunately, this sort of violence simply perpetuates a vicious cycle in which women working in fashion are forced to accept whatever working conditions they can get.

3) Even when not requesting a pay rise, though, physical and sexual abuse remains rife
According to Fashion Revolution’s 2015 White Paper, “systematic exploitation remains rife” in garment factories throughout developing nations like Bangladesh. These human rights violations run the gamut of forced and child labour, repression and discrimination, and unsafe, dirty and unfair working conditions. “Producers and garment workers might face excessive hours, forced overtime, lack of job security, denial of trade union rights, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment, discrimination and denial of other basic human rights when on the job.”

4) Despite the fact that there are more women working in fashion, they are seldom given equal opportunity
Despite the fact that women are the primary consumers of fashion products, Business of Fashion asserts that “[females] hold a disproportionately low percentage of senior positions on the factory floor.” In fact, based on data collected within RMG factories in Bangladesh by the IGC, “4 out of every 5 production line workers are female, whilst just over 1 in 20 supervisors is a woman.” They are seldom given the opportunity to rise through the ranks and, therefore, their career progression is left to stagnate. 

5) Some members of fashion's female workforce are actually young girls
Finally, of course, there is the issue of child labour that affects thousands of girls and young women working in garment factories that produce clothing for fast fashion brands. In 2016, for example, H&M hit headlines for what Business and Human Rights Resource centre researcher Danielle McMullan described as “very serious reports about exploitation of Syrian refugees including child labour, very low wages that were very discriminatory, far below minimum wage in Turkey.” Many of these children were females and what happens when they enter the workforce so early is that they become stuck in a cycle of discrimination and abuse.

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