“Closing Gender Gaps: GEAR Program Drives Career Progression for Women in

  • 10 apparel factories belonging to Vogue Tex, Orit Apparels and Hela Clothing hosted the pilot project
  • 106 women in the apparel sector trained in essential technical and soft skills necessary for their progression and success in leadership roles
  • Over 70% of participants experienced promotions from machine operators to supervisory and executive-level positions

The apparel sector in Sri Lanka has emerged as a formidable force in empowering women, acknowledging their significant contributions to the industry. However, despite constituting over 80% of the workforce, the representation of women in supervisory and managerial roles remains alarmingly low. In response to this disparity, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) partnered under the Better Work initiative to launch the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program. Aimed at enhancing career prospects for women while driving operational excellence, the pilot program was implemented across 10 garment factories, benefiting 106 trainees.

To mark the successful conclusion of the GEAR programme, a graduation ceremony was held recently to celebrate the accomplishments of the participants from Vogue Tex, Orit Apparels and Hela Clothing. The event also facilitated insightful discussions on the results and lessons learned, fostering a collaborative environment for exploring future endeavours to support and uplift women in the Sri Lankan apparel sector. Participants included representatives from the Joint Apparel Association Forum, Employers’ Federation of Ceylon and Women in Management (Sri Lanka & Maldives).

Addressing the gathering, the Head of Cooperation of the delegation to the European Union (EU) to Sri Lanka & Maldives, Johann Hesse, expressed the progress made in the GEAR programme saying that ” It is truly inspiring to not only have policies and strategies in place but also witness tangible actions being implemented on the ground. The participants’ achievements are a testament to the positive impact of our collective efforts, giving hope for a brighter and more inclusive future.”

Senior Country Officer of IFC, Victor Antonypillai, meanwhile spoke on the importance of the apparel sector stating that “In a USD 1.7 trillion industry employing 19 million people across the world, it becomes clear why initiating a project of this magnitude is not only logical but essential. Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s apparel sector holds immense significance as a major contributor to the country’s exports. IFC places great importance on the manufacturing industry globally, and we are wholeheartedly committed to unlocking its potential, particularly in terms of women’s employment and female participation as it only makes economic sense.”

Extending his gratitude to the graduates and partners, Head of the Better Work programme, Kesava Murali Kanapathy, said “GEAR is more than just a program—it is a transformative learning journey, and we believe that this is only the beginning. The graduates who have completed the program are poised to become true agents of change within the apparel sector. It is crucial to highlight that representation matters, especially at the grassroots level, where women are significantly underrepresented despite constituting 52% of the country’s population. This program is a catalyst for change, enabling us to create a more inclusive and empowering environment that positively impacts lives.”

The GEAR program has equipped female workers with the essential technical and soft skills necessary for their progression and success in leadership roles. Through targeted training sessions, participants have engaged with managers to foster cultural and organizational change, addressing gender biases and promoting the identification, promotion, and retention of female talent. Additionally, on-the-job and practical training, coupled with coaching sessions, have played a vital role in building trainees’ confidence as leaders, enabling them to apply their acquired skills effectively and drive continuous improvement.

Reflecting on the outcomes of the program, Raquael Scarapi, the GEAR Program Lead for IFC, emphasized the remarkable impact it has had on career progression within the apparel sector. She highlighted the exceptional performance and transformative results of the pilot program in Sri Lanka, surpassing the success rates seen in Vietnam and Bangladesh. With an impressive promotion rate of over 70%, as participants transitioned from machine operators to supervisory and executive-level positions.

In a panel discussion at the event, trainees and factory managers from the relevant companies shared their experiences on the GEAR program. They noted that the initiative has been a learning journey and has significantly contributed to identifying solutions to address the gaps in encouraging women to pursue leadership positions. According to Better Work (BW), further commitments have been made to promote more graduates before October 2023.

About us

Better Work – a collaboration between the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group – is a comprehensive programme bringing together all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and respect of labour rights for workers, and boost the competitiveness of apparel businesses. Currently, the programme is active in 1,700 factories employing more than 2.4 million workers in twelve countries.  As well as advising factories, Better Work collaborates with governments to improve labour laws, and with brands to ensure progress is sustained. Our vision is a global garment industry that lifts millions of people out of poverty by providing decent work, empowering women, driving business competitiveness and promoting inclusive economic growth.

Head of the Better Work programme, Kesava Murali Kanapathy
Head of Cooperation of the delegation to the European Union (EU) to Sri Lanka & Maldives, Johann Hesse
Senior Country Officer of IFC, Victor Antonypillai
The GEAR Program Lead for IFC, Raquael Scarapi

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