An intersectional approach to understanding the inequality and subordination of Sri Lankan women apparel workers


  • Gayani Samarakoon
  • Deanna Grant-Smith
  • Robyn Mayes
  • Dinuka Wijetunga



Contrary to the feminist research based on exclusively gendered processes of inequality in organisations, intersectionality theorists propose an intersectional approach to understanding the inequalities and subordination experienced by Global South women factory workers representing different social hierarchies and experiencing diverse social realities. This paper contributes to the literature by bringing empirical evidence from the Sri Lankan apparel industry to inform the inequality and subordination of women in Global South factory floors from an intersectional perspective. A qualitative methodology using data generated through interviews with women shop floor-level apparel workers who work in export processing zones (EPZs) and village areas was adopted to explore the interplay between multiple social categories (gender, poverty, and rurality) influenced by broader power structures (patriarchy and capitalism) as well as political inequalities in determining the inequalities and subordination of women workers in globalised apparel factories. Further, we consider how gendered and class-based factory processes produce and reproduce the inequalities and subordination of these women at work. The analysis identifies that workers' rural origins, poverty, and traditionally defined gendered roles have worked interactively in favour of capitalist industrialists by pushing these women workers to lower-paid manual jobs in the apparel industry. The factories utilise cheap, material-based incentives and recruitment systems for rewarding and recruiting shop floor workers, capitalising on their poverty, rurality and gender-based requirements as a source of exploitation. In addition, factory managers' behaviours create certain beliefs in these women workers, favouring the factories, resulting in the further subordination of these women through perceived cohesiveness or compliance.  Finally, this paper concludes that capitalism, together with patriarchy, creates unequal and subordinated positions for poor, rural women through their collective agendas of wealth maximisation.

Keywords: Inequality, Intersectionality, Sri Lankan apparel industry, Subordination, Women workers