In Bangladesh, Empowering and Employing Women in the Garments Sector

February 7, 2017


Women, aged between 18-26 years, at one of the training centres

The northern areas of Bangladesh are amongst the poorest in the country. Women in particular have difficulty finding alternative employment here, as they are isolated from the major industrial centres where the majority of jobs are. The Northern Areas Reduction of Poverty Initiative (NARI) project aims to target and economically empower poor and vulnerable women from the north western districts by facilitating their access to formal sector employment in the ready-made garment sector in Dhaka, Ishwardi and Chittagong. The project helps the vulnerable women overcome the difficulties of migration and challenges of adapting to city life.


The garment industry in Bangladesh has played a significant role in economically uplifting a large cohort of poor and vulnerable women. The opportunity to be gainfully employed has served as a repellent against early marriage and in turn reductions in fertility. Control over income also provides the women with more decision making power at home, voice in the social sphere and self-esteem. Today, approximately 80 percent of garment workers are women. Yet, the number of poor women from impoverished northwestern districts joining the garments sector is much lower than the number of poor women from other parts of the country. Research has shown that this is in large part due to lack of awareness, the perceived and real risks regarding migration, uncertainty about securing a job quickly.  One of the main risks cited was of finding safe and reasonably priced housing upon arrival to urban centres, in the absence of existing networks. Female garment workers constitute a highly vulnerable group: young, poor, unskilled, sometimes illiterate, and often single women in a society dominated by strong gender hierarchies. With few support systems in place, the first few months in the city and at the factory are the most hazardous, deterring many women in desperate need of work from making the change.


" I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him. This program is teaching me to be self-reliant and provide for my family. "

Sharmin Akhtar

19-year-old trainee


Trainees at the Dhaka EPZ center


  • The NARI project (nari means women in Bangla) is the first World Bank supported project of its kind in South Asia. NARI aims to provide training, transitional housing, counselling and job placement services in garment factories to poor and vulnerable women who will be recruited from the remote areas of the country, beginning in the pilot phase from the North-western regions. About 10,800 women will be recruited on a self-selection basis from five districts in northern Bangladesh, namely Gailbandha, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, and Rangpur.
  • After screening the selected women will be given an orientation course so they can make an informed decision about beginning a new life at one of the three dormitories and training centres (DTCs) near the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in Dhaka, Karnaphuli or Ishwardi. The women will be settled into newly built DTCs, with transitional housing facilities at dormitories and training centres, giving them time to develop social networks and support systems.
  • The training centres will deliver a technical training module and a life-skills training module to batches of 300 girls per session (per DTC) lasting for two and half months at each of the three EPZ.  The technical curriculum would include training in cutting, sewing, and quality control. This training will allow women to enter factories as semi-skilled workers rather than unskilled workers. The trainees will also receive life skill training covering topics such as adjustment to city life, savings and remittances, safety and security, rights and responsibilities at the work-place, finding appropriate housing and contract negotiation, health and fertility.
  • The dormitories attached to the training centre will accommodate 600 women for a transitional period of approximately four months at a time. Finally, the women will be recruited into garments factories at the EPZ and other BGMEA, BKMEA factories through job placement services available at each training centre that continually assesses the needs to the labour market and links the beneficiaries to prospective employers.  

Expected Results

  • Around 10,800  women will gain formal employment in the pilot phase
  • 2.5 months trainings to the beneficiaries
  • 4 months transitional housing facilities with free food and security provisions

Towards the Future

NARI is a pilot project which aims to train and place women in factories inside three export processing zones that have better conditions and safeguards for workers. If the pilot project is successful, based on a rigorous impact assessment, the plan is to expand it to other parts of Bangladesh and other sectors.

Basic Information

Approval date

October 27, 2011

End date

December 31, 2018

Total commitment

$29.29 million

Implementing agency

BEPZA, Coordinating Ministry: Ministry of Labour and Employment