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Why Are Women Leaving Textile Industry In Rural India?
In garment factories, employment is often based on piece-work contracts. Men work long hours for financial stability, but rural women face challenges, especially if the factory is far from their homes
Photo Credit : Union Ministry of MSME/ Twitter
In India, women face several challenges such as the right to education to active participation in the country’s labour force especially in the remote towns. In rural areas, the tough working conditions in the textile industry has resulted in an exodus of women from the sector that is the second largest employer of women (31 per cent). Hurdles such as less taxing opportunities and issues of health from work and financial instability are forcing them out of the rural textile industry.
In India, roughly 3.5 to 4 crore people are engaged in the total value chain of the Textile sector alone and it is the second largest provider of work after agriculture. Women are key drivers of consumer purchasing decisions. Enterprises that have invested in women as their workforce and decision-makers have consistently experienced positive outcomes.
Women in rural India also play a crucial role in the entire textile value chain, from raw material production like cotton farming and silkworm rearing to processes such as reeling, spinning, weaving, garment manufacturing, design and marketing. However, there are different challenges that cause women to leave the industry, depending on which part of the value chain they are involved in.
According to the World Bank data, India's female labour force participation has decreased from 31 per cent in 2000 to 24 per cent in 2021. Notably, the textile industry employs around 60 to 70 per cent of women, with over 27 million working mainly in unorganised sectors such as handicrafts and handlooms.
Amid its locations in small towns, India's textile industry also serves as a major employer for rural populations. Traditionally, rural women used the thigh reeling technique for yarn-making, causing health issues. Experts, however, told BW Businessworld that exploitation by middlemen further affected income. These factors contribute to the decline of the female workforce in the textile industry.
In garment factories, employment is often based on piece-work contracts. Men work long hours for financial stability, but rural women face challenges, especially if the factory is far from their homes. Consequently, those who produce more output are seen as experts, reinforcing the perception that men have superior skills and training opportunities.
“Women mostly do traditional artisan activities like reeling and spinning. However, these tasks, including thigh reeling, can be physically demanding and lead to injuries. As manual practices have limited productivity potential, the income earned by rural women artisans is inadequate to handle inflation. Consequently, many women abandon these traditional activities,” said Srinivas Ramanujam, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Villgro.
In traditional weaving, Ramanujam told BW Businessworld that male master weavers hold authority over the process. Women's training in weaving is often restricted to setting up the loom, hindered by social and cultural limitations in many clusters. Unfortunately, these clusters have faced challenges in competing with modern power loom factories as their productivity hasn't improved over time. Nevertheless, fabrics created by women in some clusters remain popular and continue to be in demand.
Clean technology to rescue?
Recently, Union Power Minister RK Singh released two new reports by Ceew and Villgro, which showed that clean technologies have the potential to impact 37 million livelihoods in India's agriculture and textile sectors and translate into a market opportunity worth almost Rs 4 lakh crore (about USD 50 billion).
Further, 70 per cent of women and farmers using clean technology reported an income increase, typically by 35 per cent. They use clean-energy powered products such as solar-powered silk reeling machines, multi-food processors, micro solar pumps and solar vertical fodder grow units, among others, to enhance and diversify their income.
Talking about the potential of clean technologies, experts told BW Businessworld that to turn this opportunity into a reality, India can integrate innovative solutions into existing government schemes, particularly targeting rural livelihoods, to support the growth of micro and small enterprises in the textile sector and facilitate easy access to financing for artisans to support the sales and deployment of innovations.
“India can promote innovations that enhance productivity in traditional yarn and fabric production without compromising quality and promote household-based enterprises by leveraging innovations such as solar reeling and spinning machines and solar looms, allowing women to establish businesses from their own homes,” added Ramanujam.
In November 2022, Union Textile Minister Piyush Goyal said that the sector's USP should not be restricted to cheap labour and workers should be paid well and given social security and should be brought to the formal sector.
Goyal acknowledged the textile sector's inherent capability to create employment and drive both growth and exports and said that textiles were one of the sectors identified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an industry with immense potential.
To take the textile sector to new heights, experts pitched for extensive collaboration between industry and government authorities to address issues women face which can result in high production, better quality of fabric, and bring the youth back to the sector and add to their incomes.
“The industry must raise awareness about gender inclusivity in the workplace and implement inclusive policies. It is essential to have a supportive ecosystem in terms of health, sanitation, transport, and work culture. While this may appear to be an additional expense or effort, sharing success stories that highlight the benefits for enterprises, in the long run, can effectively convey the importance,” stated Ramanujam.
Supply chain, exports and growth
The domestic apparel and textile industry in India contributes approximately two per cent to India's gross domestic product (GDP) and seven per cent of industry output in value terms. The share of textiles, apparel and handicrafts in India’s total exports was 11.4 per cent in 2020-21. India stands as the third largest exporter of textiles and apparel in the world.
According to the data available on Invest India website, India’s readymade garment exports are to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 to 13 per cent and surpassing USD 30 billion by 2027.
India is the largest cotton producer (23 per cent) in the world and has the highest area under cotton cultivation (39 per cent of the world's area). Cotton plays a major role in sustaining the livelihood of an estimated 5.8 Mn cotton farmers and 40- 50 million people engaged in related activities such as cotton processing and trade.
India produced 90 lakh bales of raw jute in FY 2021-22. The domestic textiles and apparel industry stood at USD 152 bn in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 12 per cent to reach USD 250 billion by 2025.
Last year, Union Minister of Textiles Piyush Goyal said that the sector has the potential to grow to Rs 20 lakh crore in the next five years with exports of Rs 10 lakh crore. Even then, a modest export target of 7.5 to 8 lakh crore and a production target of about 20 lakh crore which is doable in the next 5 years has been set.
India’s annual textile and apparel exports stood at USD 44.4 billion in FY 2022 with an increase of 41 per cent compared to FY21 and 26 per cent over FY20, said the Ministry of Textiles in a statement.
India's textile sector received foreign direct investment (FDI) of USD 1522.23 million from 2017-2022, said the Union Minister of State for Textiles Darshana Jardosh in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha in December last year.
“The quality of all textiles is of prime importance when it comes to attracting foreign buyers. Here also, we are currently falling short as there are very few reliable testing facilities in the country. There are still many situations where samples have to be sent abroad for testing. It is extremely important for us to develop strong testing processes and facilities within the country so that we can meet the various benchmarks set by international buyers while avoiding an increase in manufacturing costs,” said Pratik Gadia, Founder and CEO, The Yarn Bazaar.
Experts noted that there is the issue of the complex supply chain and inadequate infrastructure. Exports are a critical pillar for boosting the Indian textile sector, and hurdles faced by the industry have a profound impact on export growth, with global companies preferring other countries where their stringent product requirements are met.
Gadia added that India is also lagging far behind in the production of textile manufacturing machines. Many machines in India are old and upgrades or replacements are needed to bring production efficiency and textile quality up to standards. Procuring these machines from other countries drives costs upwards, making them prohibitive for smaller manufacturers to obtain. Therefore, we need to focus on R&D in this area as well, again with more machine manufacturers stepping up to the plate, he added.
The Indian government has approved the setting up of seven Pradhan Mantri Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel (PM MITRA) parks in greenfield and brownfield sites with an outlay of Rs 4,445 crore for seven years upto 2027-28.
The Centre has approved the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for textiles, with an approved outlay of Rs 10,683 crore, to promote the production of man-made fibre (MMF) apparel, fabrics and products of technical textiles. It has allocated an outlay of Rs 1,480 crore for the National Technical Textiles Mission (NTTM) to promote and develop the technical textiles sector.
However, Ramanujam explained, “The success of the PLI scheme is still being determined, as its primary focus is on businesses requiring over 100 crore capital investment. This means that the scheme may not directly impact micro-entrepreneurs involved in textile-based livelihoods. The same applies to the PM-MITRA scheme.”
Interestingly, Goyal has said that the central government has set a target to achieve 100 billion USD in textiles exports by the next five to six years. He mentioned that if achieved, the economic value of the sector will be 250 billion USD collectively for domestic and international. But experts said that there are several factors which will be essential to driving the Indian textile industry to achieve this humongous number which will in turn contribute to our achievement of a USD five trillion economy.
“India still lags behind in the production of technical textiles, which are in high focus across the world for their myriad and crucial applications. The government is focusing on this vital segment through the NTTM and the PLI scheme launched earlier this year. However, there are very few Indian companies manufacturing high-performance fibres such as kevlar and aramid. We need to promote R&D, and we need more companies to enter this domain, in order to build a global position for India,” Gadia added.