Neoliberalism and the racialized and gendered process of global economic restructuring that it entails, constitute major threats to democracy and to women’s rights in particular. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the lives of the women who make up the majority of the world’s 26.3 million garment workers in Export Processing Zones where rampant human rights violations are the norm rather than the exception. In Ruaraka, Kenya, the situation is even worse. Here EPZ workers are also threatened by HIV/AIDS and are still attempting to heal and reconcile from the 2007 post-election violence that gripped the slums surrounding the Ruaraka Export Processing Zones.

At the Other End of the Global Assembly Line: Critical Literacy in the EPZs looks at the role of critical literacy in empowering EPZ workers to deal with these challenges. It utilized participatory action research and phenomenological methodologies to create and evaluate the impact of a six month Critical Literacy in the EPZs program on the lives of the 15 current and former EPZ workers who took part.

This research found that critical literacy programs, whose content and methodologies find their roots in critical pedagogy, feminist popular education and Gender and Development (GAD) have a role to play in empowering female EPZ workers to challenge and transform the neoliberal, patriarchal, ethnic and racial structures that lead to their subordination. Together these three educational approaches constitute a pedagogy for empowerment by facilitating a process whereby learners can discover their own power within through conscientization, as well as their power with one another, which can then result in the power to bring about transformation at the local level.

The results of this paper could be useful for all educators working for peace and social justice, and in particular for unions, civil society organizations and international workers solidarity organizations, both in the Global North and South, who support EPZ workers’ struggles to better their labour and living conditions.


Education | Inequality and Stratification