Speakers at a function in Dhaka on Tuesday said government policy and infrastructural support are necessary to raise export earnings from the continuously growing and still very potential readymade garment sector that annually fetches about 12.5 billion dollars.
Good health need to be ensured for the garment workers who are the main driving force behind the countrys highest export earning sector, they added.
The speakers were addressing a function organised for Dissemination of report on Change in Attitude and Behaviour of Garment Owners, Managers and Workers Towards Gender and Reproductive Health Issues.
Dhaka Universitys economics department teacher Abul Barkat presented the keynote paper on the findings of the study conducted under the project titled Promotion of reproductive health, gender equality and womens empowerment in garment sector.
A team, led by Abul Barkat, conducted a survey to compare the reproductive health services and reproductive rights enjoyed by garment workers, and the attitude of the owners and managers towards the female employees working in factories inside and outside the project area.
The other members of the team are Murtaza Majid, Roushan Ara, Golam Mohiuddin, Motiur Rahman, Abhijit Poddar, Asmar Osman, Shanewaz Khan, Mohamad Badiuzzaman and Abdullah Al-Hossain.
About 450,000 workers of 450 garment factories inside as well as outside the project area in Chittagong, Narayanganj, and Malibag and Mirpur areas of Dhaka were surveyed.
Women and children affairs state minister Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Abdus Salam Murshedy and UNFPA country representative Arthur Erken addressed the function at the Sonargaon Hotel.
Labour and employment secretary Mohammad Nurul Haque, UNFPA assistant representative Noor Mohammad, BGMEA vice-president Mohammad Shafiul Islam and project director Mohsin Uddin Ahmed Niru also spoke at the function attended by garment owners and others working for the welfare of the workers.
Detailing the findings of the study, Abul Barkat said the average age of male and female workers in the project area are 28 years and 24 years respectively while their average age of marriage were 25 years and 17 years respectively.
The average age of male and female workers in factories outside the project area were 26 years and 22 years respectively while the average age of marriage there were 24 years and 18 years.
The average age of bearing the first child by workers inside the project area was 19 years while it was 18.5 years outside.
Nearly 62 per cent female workers had children. The youngest child of female workers inside the project area was 2.3 years which was 1.7 outside.
The average working hours of female workers inside as well as outside the project was 10 hours daily.
The women and children affairs minister Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in her deliberation stressed intensifying awareness programmes to reduce the prevailing information gap among the female workers about their health and other rights.
She assured all-out government support to improve the facilities and ensure rights of the huge number of female workers involved in the garment sector.
Sharmin also called upon the concerned authorities to implement the recommendations of the study for the welbeing of the female workers.
BGMEA president Salam Murshedy informed that besides running a dozen of health centres, the association will set up two 150-bed full-fledged hospitals for the garments workers.
The one being set up in Chittagong has been half done while the work of the one in Dhaka will start sometime this month.
With proper government support, the sector has the potential to raise the export earnings from $12.5 billion in 2009 to $25 billion in next five years, he added.