The Government of Nepal (GON) has introduced policies that encourage women’s participation in light manufacturing sector like yarn, handicrafts and other micro-enterprises. For example: industries owned by women can benefit from 35% discount in registration fees, and firms can avail income tax exemption depending on the number of employees as well as the number of women, disadvantaged groups, people with disabilities they recruit and also have subsidy loan provisions. Additionally, the Province2 Government, led by its Chief Minister Lal Babu Raut, has been the most pro-active province in championing the cause of women and girls in the country. The Chief Minister’s Beti Bachao Beti Padao campaign has received rave reviews. Yet, according to Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS, 2014), only 18% were women out of the 195,000 people employed in the manufacturing sector.
In November 2019, the Nepal Yarn Manufacturer’s Association (NYMA) and UKaid Skills for Employment Programme (???), came together to co-design and co-invest in a multi-factory initiative aimed at enabling quality skilling, employment, and productivity for at least 3,777 workers and the factories. Closing the gender gap by challenging longstanding stereotypes and sensitizing business owners, managers, and supervisors – across all levels – on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) to shift mindsets and facilitate increased participation and retention of women is a crucial element of this partnership.
“The widespread assumption, and practice at factories until recently, is that most of the jobs in the manufacturing sector are specifically designed and created for men,” explains Uttam Gautam, Project Manager at NYMA. The key entry barriers for women, as per a GESI Analysis commissioned by ??? in 2019, includes relocation challenges, absence of supportive services, sexual harassment, and limited negotiating capacity. Gautam added, “unfortunately, there are only few employers willing to provide flexible and appropriate working hours and support services to address these social and cultural barriers.”
These dynamics are changing under the leadership of NYMA’s Chairperson, Pawan Golyan, who owns Reliance Spinning Mill, one of the largest and the most progressive spinning Mills in the country. Over 30% of the workers at Reliance are women, and there are separate provisions for accommodation for staff families including female staff. Golyan is determined to scale this further and encourage replication of the good GESI-enabling practices at the other factories.
With support from ???, NYMA along with four partner factories – Reliance Spinning Mills, Triveni Spinning Mills, Jagadamba Spinning Mills and Tricot Industries – aim to ensure at least 50% representation of women. This is the first time that four large industries have come together, formally, to build a partnership geared towards achieving common goals and accelerating progress for the larger good.
“NYMA and ???’s positive impact is already visible,” emphasized Kriti Shree Giri, Project Coordinator at NYMA. Triveni Spinning Mills, the second largest spinning mill in Nepal with more than 1,800 employees, in its 20-year history, had never employed women. This, largely because of a “it hasn’t been tried before” mindset and lack of gender-friendly factors at the factory.
At Triveni Spinning Mill, the first batch of 18 women were onboarded for training, and subsequent employment, in January 2020. The factory is going through a cultural and structural transformation to hire as well as enable retention of more women. Mindsets and practices at the factory have started shifting, highlights Rajendra Nath, General Manager at Triveni Spinning Mills, noting, “Triveni Spinning Mills is not only opening its doors for women now, but has also created special security arrangements, built gender-segregated bathrooms, hostels for accommodation, and changing rooms to ensure women have access to basic services during work hours, and remain committed to the factory.” The Management, with support from ???, is also upgrading their training spaces and introducing a GESI policy, for the first time, to incentivize and support women with success at work.
“The yarn industry has the potential to double production and create more than 500,000 new jobs over the next five years,” shared Chairperson Golyan during a recent engagement with industry stakeholders in Kathmandu. “Increased engagement and retention of women can go a long way in raising productivity and production levels at the factories by slowing, or even reversing, worker turnover, which is a huge challenge for the firms.” A firm-level survey by ??? in 2018 showed that on average 100-150 workers leave the factories each month, which requires 300-400 new replacements—affecting optimal production.
???’s partnership with NYMA is geared towards addressing skill gaps and workforce demands of the yarn and knit wear industry, while also enabling growth of the yarn industry and garment value chain industries. The technical assistance and co-investment from ??? is supporting the factories with strengthening of worker productivity, efficiency, retention as well as income levels, while also supporting the factories to establish stronger HRM practices, especially in regard to hiring women and people from disadvantaged groups.
To date, 1,034 people have been skilled out of which 874 have been placed in jobs at the four factories. While Covid-19 has slowed down the activities, the factories are hopeful of picking up the momentum once the lockdown subsides and market rebounds. In addition to international exports, NYMA, in partnership with ??? has also begun serving new domestic markets in Nepal like in Tansen, Palpa, to support the revival of the Palpali Dhaka industry — another initiative supported by ??? — with backward linkages to ensure regular supply of quality yarn.
Reflecting on her time at the Triveni Spinning Mill, Saraswati shared, “I’m motivated to show up and do my best at work every day. I am now focused on spinning and aim to move to the company assures us of their commitment towards women workers’ safety, and I hope to see a lot more women here on the factory floors one day.”