•  
  •  
 

Abstract

Government agencies, NGOs and medical personnel profess competing perceptions on Sri Lanka’s female Free trade Zone (FTZ) workers’ reproductive health needs. Varied statistical sources also present and interpret the overall reproductive health outcomes for FTZ workers in differing ways. In this extraordinarily saturated field of power, where different agents and agencies jostle for legitimacy to speak for female global factory workers, the overarching question is where the women workers themselves stand? How do they perceive and respond to discourses and practices within this field? What are their experiences of reproductive health and knowledge and how have their attitudes changed over time? Based on 15 in-depth interviews with workers and a reproductive health survey of 100 workers, this paper seeks to answer these questions. The analyses are also informed by numerous interviews with NGO staff, government officials, health professionals and educators. \

The continuing cultural restrictions and resultant practices of denial and silence surrounding premarital sex render contraceptive usage an “after thought,” leading to workers believing that emergency contraceptives alone allow them agency when managing reproductive choices. While the number of agents and agencies vying to speak for workers’ reproductive rights has increased, nothing much has changed for workers at the ground level, making them marginal actors in these discourses and policy-wars. By demonstrating that workers are neither ignorant about reproductive technology nor naïve about the difficulties encountered when exercising their reproductive rights, I argue that their choice of morning-after pill and abortions is, in fact, a critique of the actors and agencies who represent and advocate for FTZ workers based on their own particular agendas.

Note on the Author

Sandya Hewamanne is professor of Anthropology, Department of Sociology, University of Essex. She is the author of Stitching Identities in a Free Trade Zone: Gender and Politics in Sri Lanka, University of Pennsylvania Press (2008) Sri Lanka’s Global Factory Workers: (Un)Disciplined Desires and Sexual Struggles in a Post-Colonial Society, Routledge (2016) and Re-stitching Identities in Rural Sri Lanka: Neoliberalism, Gender and Politics of Contentment, University of Pennsylvania Press (2020). She has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on labor and human rights, gender, sexuality and economic anthropology. She is also the Convener of Essex South Asia Research Network (ESARN) and the Founder, Director of IMPACT-Global Work, a non-profit which connects academics and activists to initiate beneficial policies for global workers in third world countries.

Share

COinS