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Mass Layoffs in Pakistan’s Textile Industry has Led to Increased Gender-Based Violence Among Workers

Middle East & North Africa, Featured, Recent News

pakistan, textile industry, fashion

By Sophia Kulow

For decades, Pakistan’s textile industry has supported Western countries’ exponential consumption of fabric goods. The country’s economy relies heavily on the textile sector, making Pakistan the eighth-largest exporter of textile commodities in Asia (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2014). However, the combination of low exports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan’s current economic crisis, and floods that have devastated cotton fields, millions of textile workers have been laid off over the past couple of years (Ansari, 2023). 

Women make up half of these workers, and due to their increased vulnerability as workers, are deemed to be disposable by their employers. This phenomenon has been significantly contributing to the gender-based violence that occurs in the industry. For many women in the sector, the low-wage factory job is their only source of income. This makes many women desperate to keep their job, despite the fear or reality of receiving a delayed or underpaid salary, and the harassment they might face at work. Smaller labor mills tend to be an even bigger problem as they are more likely to get away with ignoring labor laws. This includes workers being denied any maternity leave (Ansari, 2023). 

While these issues are exacerbated in Pakistan due to their economic state, fashion and textile factories are hotspots for gender-based violence. This is in part due to the nature of the industry and fast fashion’s rapid incline over the past decades. Fast fashion and textile factories are often located abroad, with most plants in China and India. Retailers take advantage of exploited laborers to feed the massive clothing consumption that occurs in the global West.

Occupations in manufacturing and managing factories are male-dominated spheres, where typically there is a lack of gender equality or acceptance of textile worker’s rights. 

In addition to the never-ending pressure to meet production targets, women in textile factories are at the forefront of violence. A 2022 report by Global Labor Justice in Asia found that “rape, slapping, bullying and misuse of power to pursue inappropriate and forced relationships were very common amongst female workers” (Anyachoudhary, 2021). 

In 2018,  a report was filed against an H&M factory in Bangalore due to a batch supervisor physically assaulting a female worker for not reaching her target quota (Anyachoudhary, 2021). Unfortunately, even with reports of incidents similar to this one, the situations are often not followed up upon, and the harassment continues.

In Pakistan, women are more vulnerable to abuse due to the country’s dire economic situation and, thus, are more likely to succumb to such harassment. However, there has been more hope recently as the Women Workers’ Alliance has been protesting against the mass layoffs and demanding workers are paid their agreed wages. This alliance is significant because many female workers fear losing their jobs if they speak out. WWA has also been helping workers create anti-harassment committees and has met with Pakistan’s labor department to ensure that these committees continue to flourish around the country. 

Despite this effort, there is still a lack of global awareness of the mass layoffs occurring in Pakistan’s textile industry. It is crucial we stay up-to-date on current events regarding gender-based violence globally and in all sectors or industries, as awareness is the first step towards pressuring our institutions for a system change.

Women deserve to work without fear of harassment, losing their job, or not receiving pay. Global Rights for Women is working to spread awareness regarding occurrences of gender-based violence in production industries, with a drive to put an end to the vulnerability of female workers.

Sophia Kulow is an intern with Global Rights for Women. She is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a degree in global studies, and minors in sustainability and fashion.



Ansari. P. L. (2023, March 15). Pakistan’s textile industry is in crisis – and women are bearing the brunt of its decline. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/feb/01/pakistan-textile-industry-crisis-women

Anyachoudhary. (2021, January 17). Gender Based Abuse in the Fashion Industry. Let Clothes Live Long. https://letclotheslivelong.org/2021/01/17/gender-based-abuse-in-the-fashion-industry/

Whabi, P. (2021, June 30). Advancing Gender Justice on Asian Fast Fashion Supply Chains Post COVID-19 – Global Labor Justice. Global Labor Justice. https://globallaborjustice.org/advancing-gender-justice-on-asian-fast-fashion-supply-chains-post-covid-19/

Clean Clothes Campaign Team. (2014). Factsheet Pakistan: Facts on Pakistan’s Garment Industry. Clean Clothes Campaign. Cleanclothes.org