SWAPNO Stories

SWAPNO: Experience with Ready-made Garment Sector

Posted on 29 Mar, 2017

The Government safety net programme, SWAPNO, entered a partnership with EcoFab, a sister concern of the Viyellatex Group, to provide jobs for destitute women.

SWAPNO is a cash-for-work project that aims to lift rural women out of extreme poverty by providing them with employment and access to skills and assets.  The project has been developed under the leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister to empower women and is being implemented by the Local Government Division with support from UNDP, ILO, and the Spanish Government under the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. The project has initially been launched in Kurigram and Satkhira districts and will be scaled up to reach across the country.

SWAPNO is an example of a transformative social safety net as it enables extreme poor, women participants to earn a living, contribute to the community, and develop skills that will help them connect to the mainstream economy. The project provides training on entrepreneurship for participants who want to do own-account business or skills development and job placement for those who want waged employment.

Skills are possibly the least erosive assets a person can own and hence are an effective avenue out of poverty.  Bangladesh’s readymade garment sector is growing and so is its demand for skilled labour.  However, poor women in Kurigram lack the network to secure a job outside the district, and some training institutes provide training that may not even match requirements of the industry. This mismatch must be avoided through partnerships with the private sector from the start.

SWAPNO: Experience with Ready-made Garment SectorSWAPNO has forged a partnership with the Kurigram Technical Training College (TTC) and the garments company, Ecofab, to train beneficiaries and help them relocate to work in a factory. Through this Public Private Partnership, 15 women participated in a two-month training course on sewing machine operation and were certified by the exporters association of the garment manufacturers.

The vocational training was free but did not cover residential costs. Lack of residential facilities for women in technical training institutes forms a barrier to the labour market that needs to be addressed.  SWAPNO provided women who live in remote areas support for food and lodging during training.

EcoFab is covered by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to ensure a safe working environment in the Bangladesh readymade garment industry and is committed to pay the minimum salaries prescribed by the Government. The Assistant General Manager of Ecofab says, “We were happy to provide these women with jobs as they passed our entry-level skills test.  We hope to employ many more women.”

This partnership offers new lessons and opportunities for poverty eradication, empowerment of women, and skills development in the garment sector. Social security schemes should not only provide transfers to help meet immediate consumption needs, but also training opportunities to enable women to gain economic independence.

Counselling and motivation are required to ensure that once trained, the women take up a job.  There are many fears and uncertainties around a move from Kurigram to where the factories are located.  Professional and personal guidance was provided to each woman as they made this transition.

Additionally, relocation fees were provided. In general, extreme poor women cannot afford their own relocation and accommodation costs without support.

Participants required basic literacy training to sign their name and pass the skills test needed to join factories; SWAPNO also provided this.

Kurigram TTC staff said that other, non-SWAPNO individuals who attended the training did not get jobs, since training was conducted without prior partnership with private sector employers. Without job placement guarantee, women often complete training, but then don’t receive a job.

The new National Social Security Strategy of Bangladesh offers a platform for social protection to advance the empowerment of women. The SWAPNO transformative social protection model recognizes the need for a holistic package of support to address the multi-dimensional obstacles poor women face when trying to climb out of extreme poverty. Cash or asset transfers alone are insufficient. To promote economic empowerment, women require training to access finance, markets, jobs and services, and effective savings mechanisms.  Building partnerships with the private sector and training institutes can pave the way for women to work their way out of poverty.

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Written by: Selina Chowdhury and Shazia Omar, Edited by: Göran Jonsson