Despite Low Pay, Poor Work Conditions, Garment Factories Empowering Millions Of Bangladeshi Women

Despite Low Pay, Poor Work Conditions, Garment Factories Empowering Millions Of Bangladeshi Women

Workers’ rights have also somewhat improved over the past year – a labor law passed last summer allows employees in Bangladesh to form labor unions without the approval of factory owners (there are now more than 120 registered garment trade unions, up from only three in 2012-2013). Laborers also saw their minimum wage jump from the equivalent of $38 per month to $73 (although that figure remains below the average wages of textile workers in other Asian nations).The garment industry is crucial to Bangladesh’s economic survival – the sector employs some 4 million people, about 90 percent of them women. This fact underlines one of the dominant and perhaps surprising themes of this business: the increasing empowerment of young women in one of the poorest nations on earth.

One such young woman in Bangladesh is 19-year-old Mukhta Mollah, one of 350 factory workers/seamstresses at Beauty Garments Pvt. Ltd. in Dhaka, where she makes $20 a day for at least eight hours a day six days a week. That may sound like a pittance to westerners, but her earnings grant her an independence and social freedom unknown to many of her female peers in the traditional Muslim country.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Mollah sends half of her salary to her family in the countryside, leaving her just enough to survive in Dhaka, thereby avoiding the fate of so many rural girls who get married and bear children by their mid- or late teens and endure severe restrictions in their freedom of movement. “For them [rural girls], it’s a cage,” she told the Times. “My life is much better than theirs because they have no freedom. When I go back to my village and see my friends, they ask me, ‘Can you take us with you?'” One of Mollah’s roommates, Kanchi Hazi, who also toils as a garment worker, beamed: “I like it here [in Dhaka]. I make my own decisions. I can earn money and help my family.”

When she returns home to visit her village, the local girls envy and idolize her. “They see me as a role model,” Hazi said. “I can do whatever I want. I can enjoy myself. I have freedom.”Indeed, even some those voices who have criticized the poor infrastructure and corruption that endangers the lives of Bangladeshi textile workers admit that such jobs provide a way out of poverty and bondage for millions of the country’s women.

“It’s fantastic that they have this common industry [textiles] that has put women to work,” said Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights in Pittsburgh, to the Times.Finding a job in a garment factory also prevents many young Bangladeshi women from the ancient (but illegal) practice of marrying underage. The Times reported that an estimated 60 percent of girls in the country get married before they turn 18, the legal age. This custom also perpetuates the system of dowry payments, in which brides have more “value” when they are younger, more fertile and more attractive.

Sajeda Amin, a sociologist and demographer affiliated with the Population Council in New York, told the Times that female garment workers are not rejecting arranged marriages, rather they are simply postponing them. “They want to get married, but later. They want to bear children, but at the right time,” she said. Indeed, Mollah clarified: “I [will] leave the decision to my parents when to get married.”Having a job also frees young women from some of the strictures imposed upon them by a very conservative Islamic moral code that generally forbids unmarried women from even leaving their homes unless they are required to work in the fields, much less work in the same locale with strange men.

Moreover, women who marry later tend to have fewer kids, which is now helping to curb the country’s rapidly growing population.In a research piece published by  Berkeley University, Shaina Hyder wrote that the Bangladeshi garment industry has single‐handedly created a “niche” of single women working and living in the city that did not previously exist in Bangladesh. “While garments work is hard, the women working in the industry have optimism and pride,” Hyder wrote. “Nearly 90 percent of the women I interviewed thought that working was better than being a housewife, and 70 percent felt that jobs for women were as necessary and important as jobs for men.” Hyder cited the example of a 45‐year‐old divorcee named Khadijah who works as a line manager at a factory. Khadijah raised her only child as a single parent, saving and providing for her daughter’s college tuition and tutoring by working full‐time for over 15 years, Hyder noted. “Her financial capabilities paved the road for her family’s social mobility – in three generations, Khadijah’s family had gone from rural housewife to blue‐collar working woman to college graduate,” Hyder said.

In a broader context, the textile industry – which did not really even exist in Bangladesh prior to the 1970s – has inadvertently spurred a mini-revolution of sorts in the country by prompting an exodus of poor rural

Source: Despite Low Pay, Poor Work Conditions, Garment Factories Empowering Millions Of Bangladeshi Women