The Women’s Center in Sri Lanka has been protecting the rights of women garment workers for over 30 years

FOR more than three decades, the Women’s Center of Sri Lanka has worked to protect the rights of women garment workers across the island.

The first free trade zone was created in Katunayaka in 1978.

Women in particular have suffered from exploitation by companies allowed to do anything to make a profit in a low-wage economy heavily dependent on three sources: tea production, tourism and garment manufacturing.

The Women’s Center was established at Tudella in Ja-Ela in August 1983 to help provide some protection for women in the garment industry.

The center also opened another branch in 1987 at Jayawardhanapura in Katunayake to support women working in the Katunayake Free Zone (FTZ).

Sri Lanka now has three free zones on the island.

The Women’s Centers grew out of strikes that took place to “give us a place where we could meet and give each other a bit of solidarity,” said executive director Padmini Weerasuriya.

She added, “More than that, we also wanted to be able to show our solidarity with other women’s groups in Sri Lanka.”

Ms. Weerasuriya explained that the Women’s Center has been particularly active in supporting female migrant garment workers during the global pandemic.

Migrant industrial workers were accused by some of having spread the virus. They were not eligible for the same government support as locals.

The only support they received came from the center in the overcrowded boarding houses where they live.

The Women’s Center provides information to women on reproductive rights as well as day care facilities for their members, who number 15,464.

The center is rightly proud of the work it does to combat sexism in the workplace and across the island, but also wants to empower women to play an active role in society and their unions.

Michael O. Stutler