The famous saying one swallow does not make a spring perhaps aptly portrays the scenario as far as women participation and leadership in trade union activities in Bangladesh garment industry is concerned. The likes of Nazma Akter (garment worker turned labour leader), who now successfully runs the globally renowned NGO Awaj Foundation, are at best exceptions, at least so points out a recent report.
As per the report ‘Barriers to Women’s Participation in Trade Unions and Labour Organisations’ unveiled by labour research organisation Bangladesh Shrama Institute (Bashi) recently, women spearheading labour movements is dismal.
The research, based on different discussions on the focus group, found that huge load of factory and domestic work prevented women to get involved with trade union activities in the factories. Despite constituting a major chunk of the workforce (around 80 per cent) in the RMG sector, women have very less participation in unionism.
Harassment by the administration, in legal procedures, socially and, economically also prevented thousands of women from unionism; it underlined adding women workers are oppressed by the state machinery, factory owners and local goons to refrain from labour rights activities.
Participating in a press conference related to unveiling of the first part of the report, speakers highlighted on the country’s social system where women have to maintain double roles, both as a homemaker and as a working woman, which takes up a lot of their energy. They emphasised how families’ contribution could aide women in their daily chores to ease up the load, while calling upon labour organisations to engage in strong social movements, which could develop female leadership in their organisations.
“Women constitute a majority of the Bangladesh labour sector…Their participation in and contribution to labour movements is by no means minimal. Yet, their presence as leaders or policy makers is negligible. This reveals the partial failure of labour movements,” explained President of Bashi Trustee Board Shah Atiul Islam.
According to the speakers, there are 32 national trade union centres, 169 sectoral trade union federations and 7,289 basic unions in Bangladesh consisting of about 2,300,000 members currently. However, women represent only 15 per cent of the total members!
Going by the current trend, women engaged in the prosperous RMG sector of the country, seems to have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to leadership roles in trade and workers’ union for sure.