Fabric of the Nation
How can men recognise the contributions of female garment workers in Bangladesh?
Mahbub Rahman, a student at Dhaka University, was whiling the sultry afternoon away on a rooftop a few months ago when he overheard a conversation that made him sit up.
“Four female garment factory workers were there, discussing their problems with their families. Despite earning money, they still had difficulty gaining respect in their husbands’ family, and so on….”
Those comments stuck with him for a long time after.
“It struck me that that was genuinely the scenario that was so problematic in our country. Despite earning money and contributing to their families they had no recognition, no personal life, and people refuse to talk to them as they are poor.”
Bangladesh’s export trade is dominated by the ready-made garments (RMG) industry. It became the first multi-billion dollar manufacturing and export industry in Bangladesh in 2005, accounting for 75 per cent of the country’s earnings. Over 80 per cent of the garment workers in Bangladesh are female.
“The participation of women in the RMG industry, as well in other sectors, is on the rise. At a bank where I did an internship, 25 out of 30 employees are female,” Mahbub noted.
“But opportunities most women to gain social recognition or creative expression through leisure activities are still limited. For me, the main problem that women face is that many of them remain confined within the boundaries of their rooms.”
Despite the significant impact of organisations like Grameen Bank and the BRAC that have done much to address issues of gender equality, Mahbub believes that women continue to remain on the bottom rungs of the social ladder due to the poor mentalities that men possess.
“The main problems still reside within the family. The approach towards women in our country is still too mean. We need more organizations to work towards women empowerment, promoting the idea that we should treat women fairly as fellow human beings.”
Even now, if a woman says that she is planning to start a business, people will mock or discourage her.
“People say, ‘Oh no! You can’t do that! Business is only for men, you have to take a lot of risk and suffer a lot of pressure, and you have to go to many places and stay out till late at night!”
“But I think that even poor and less educated women have the means and the ability to start their own businesses if they want to.”
Even though more female university students like Mahbub’s schoolmates are now working proudly in multi-national corporations or local organizations, even a woman from an educated family often has to face such obstacles if she proposes the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.
“The main problem women are facing is that they are confined within the boundary of their room. But they are also innovative people who can lead an organization or even a country. Yet, they don’t get the chance!
Spurred by his belief that it is the psychological attitudes of men towards women that can best bridge the gender gap in his counry, Mahbub joined Lensational in February as a programme leader, working with female employees in the RMG industry to find means of expression through photography.
“I wanted to become involved with an organisation that can at least help them to think — “yes, I can do that.”
It is that crucial mental shift — so very lacking due to the discouraging attitudes of men — that can help women share their story with the world, learn about their rights, and achieve their true potential.
Lensational will be returning to Bangladesh in May 2015 to equip 10 factory workers and 8 surf girls with permanent access to cameras. Read more about our project here.
Mahbub completed his undergraduate degree in Marketing from the University Of Dhaka in March 2015 and is preparing to start his MBA degree in May. Now based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, he joined Lensational in February 2015. He is also Head of Brand Promotion and Communication at the Dhaka University Social Business Society (DUSBS).