We’re delighted to be celebrating International Women’s Day with the official campaign #PledgeforParity. Gender parity is a key commitment of Fairtrade, and we have the stats to prove our commitment the whole way through the supply chain. But International Women’s Day is not just about numbers or hitting targets. For us, today is about celebrating and valuing the work of our women producers.
In the case of too many women, the journey to a fair working place has been a difficult one. On the one hand, women make up the main workforce in Bangladeshi factories, where they are manual workers and are lower paid than men. On the other hand, in smaller, rural communities where men and women cannot spend time together, a space must be made for women to work in that is separate from the men. Where there is a demand for female workers there is often exploitation; where there isn’t demand, there are social limitations. Often, there is not enough of a demand because a woman working is seen to be a sign of poverty and therefore a source of shame. Even if they can create a workspace for women within a production unit, it’s a whole other challenge to ensure that the environment is one of respect and equal pay.
At People Tree, we ensure that there is parity at every stage of our supply chain. The producers we work with achieve this in three ways: empowerment through education, through access, and through celebration. On this International Women’s Day, we want to focus on three of our key producer partners and the ways that they are combating gender inequality, and celebrate their successes with them!
Empowerment through education.
Education for women is still a huge problem in many parts of the world and educating about the importance of higher learning is key to changing the disparity between men and women. At Swallows, one of our key producer partners based in North West Bangladesh, they do just that. They are a project explicitly for women, where even hand weaving (which is considered to be men’s work) is done by women. The workers are empowered through workshops, technical support and one to one training. They are educated about the importance of education for women and girls; they provide support and mediation for victims of domestic violence and raise awareness about child marriage. In many ways, education is key to elevating the status of women in these communities and is of the utmost importance at Swallows. They provide mediation and support outside of Swallows throughout Rajshahi.
As well as Swallows, Mandala have empowered women to have access to work by working with local village leaders to create a mainly women workforce, and Creative Handicrafts have trained women and opened tailoring units in the slum areas in Mumbai with crèches, so that women can work close to home.
Empowerment through access
“Five years ago, before working at TARA, it was difficult for me to come out of the house, as a woman, my opinions didn’t count. But since I have started earning money, it has given me more empowerment. Domestic violence is a big problem in India, men’s alcohol problems and frustration gets taken out on their wives. But becoming more empowered has made a big difference.” – Geeta Singh, worker at TARA
In communities where you cannot have men and women working together, producers that can create spaces where women can work makes all the difference. Many sexist tropes that hold women back from working in these communities are being undone by working in spaces that are respected and dignified. This is the case with TARA, which stands for Trade, Alternative, Reform and Action. TARA work with marginalised people (including women) in Delhi, India, and have led the way in defending the rights of the poor, and campaigning against child labour.
This access also means flexibility – giving women the ability to work flexible or part-time hours means they don’t have to sacrifice a livelihood for motherhood and still earn a living wage. TARA Projects employs only adults and ensures that TARA artisans earn more in comparison to other artisans. Artisans also enjoy access to better working conditions, savings schemes, health facilities and opportunities for training and ongoing support. This access helps create a demand for bigger facilities and more opportunities for women to join the workforce.
Empowerment through celebration
“We never knew what exactly our rights were as women, we always spent our time at home making food. We never knew of the international days, ‘International Women’s Day’, ‘International Water Day’, and ‘World Fair Trade Day’. We only got to know about this when we reached TARA . We’ve really learned a lot. Previously we lived in fear, but now people are afraid of us! (Sofiya is now a ‘leader’ in her community) If you could measure the distance between the earth and the sun, that is the difference we feel.” – Sofiya, Worker at TARA.
On days like these it is so important to embrace and celebrate the work of these women – the hard work and dedication of women to their families and to their jobs is an inspirational story that is told every day around the world. By working with companies that embrace and revive ancient, delicate hand crafts, pay men and women equally, and provide flexible working hours, our producer partners are not limited – they are celebrated. As mothers, as skilled workers, as women. We are proud to be part of this community that is making real change to individual lives.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Read more about all the wonderful People Tree producers here.