Garment workers in Sri Lanka have launched a collection of songs in a bid to change attitudes towards what are known as 'garment girls.'

The collection of 12 songs in CD and cassette format was funded by the Christian World Service of New Zealand and was launched by the Women's Centre, an organisation campaigning for rights of working women.

"These girls are treated very badly by our society. They are called all kinds of derogatory names," explained the Coordinator of the Women's Centre, Padmini Weerasuriya.

"They are harassed on the roads and preyed upon. But they are the people earning money for this country.

"Through the songs, we want to tell people not to treat them badly and we want to show people that these girls can do more than just sew."

The Women's Centre has also produced a street drama to generate public support against harassment of women in buses, roads and public places.

Over 80% of Sri Lanka's garment industry workforce is made up of women but women's organisations say that sexual harassment on the roads and busses are a major obstacle to the freedom of movement of working women, particularly in Sri Lanka's free-trade areas.

Although working conditions at factories have improved recently, verbal and physical harassment, particularly after dark, has become a pressing problem. Women are also in constant danger of being attacked and robbed for their jewellery or money.

The combination of low status, poor boarding and transport facilities and harassment is now turning people away from garment factory jobs.

"There are an estimated 30,000 vacancies in the industry. The biggest problem is the bad image," said T G Ariyarathne, secretary general of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the representative body of the garment industry. 

By Dilshani Samaraweera.