Gender, status and empowerment: A study among women who work in a Sri Lankan Export Processing Zone (EPZ)
School of Psychology and Social Science
This article is based on an AusAID-funded study which sampled 521 young factory women working in Sri Lanka’s largest Export Processing Zone (EPZ) – Katuanayake. The analysis of qualitative data provides insights into the lived experiences of factory women and was designed to provide a more complex understanding of the ways in which women may be empowered or indeed dis-empowered as a result of formal factory employment. The research was funded by AusAID specifically in the interest to offset the macro and often crude ways were adopted in which gender empowerment is measured through the UNDPs Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI). In essence the qualitative research presented in this article shows clearly the shortcomings of the GEM and GGGI and provides new insights into the ways in which women in Sri Lanka’s EPZs experience and understand empowerment. The rationale being that the sample group are at the ‘cutting edge’ of economic development and should be, according to the GEM and GGGI, ‘empowered’ simply because they have full time and relatively well paid employment. Indeed the conclusions in this article present a contrary argument and in the process new ways to conceptualize empowerment of women in developing nations.