Violence, Women, Work and Empowerment: Narratives from Factory Women in Sri Lanka's Export Processing Zones
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
Centre for Social Research
Qualitative research was conducted among young Sri Lankan women who work in the nation's Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in 2004–2005. The research was designed to provide new understandings of the ways in which women's empowerment is conceptualized. More specifically, the research looked for alternative ways to measure gender empowerment as opposed to existing global measures, such as the UNDP's Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) which dominate discourse vis-à-vis women's empowerment in developing nations. In the course of the research, women were asked to discuss new ways in which to conceptualize and in turn measure women's empowerment, based upon their lived experiences as factory workers. The issue of violence against women emerged as a dominant theme in their narratives. This was surprising because the issue of gender-based violence was never introduced to any of the participants in focus groups or interviews. However, as a related theme it was explored further; and violence against women in Sri Lankan society does indeed appear to be a major problem. The fact that a majority of the factory women who participated in this research rated violence against women (or lack of it) as a major way in which to measure women's empowerment (over time) is a reflection of the problem itself (at the societal level) and provides new and constructive ways in which to conceptualize and measure women's empowerment.