This International Women’s Day, the key international discussion is around how we #BreakTheBias and promote women’s equality around the world. This ties in well with WFTO’s #SheLeadsTheWay campaign, supporting a world in which women can achieve their full potential.

Swallows Staff - all showing their W hand symbol for International Women's Day 2022
Workers at Thanapara Swallows in Bangladesh

People Tree’s focus for IWD2022 is a project specifically targeted in Bangladesh, where our People Tree Foundation is working with Christian Aid, Development Wheel (DEW) and ECOTA Fair Trade Forum to train staff within 6 fair trade organisations to educate and advocate for gender equality in their workplaces. By directly working to break the bias, more women in the garment industry will have the opportunity of promotion to senior roles as well as better working conditions.

Why Bangladesh?

After China, Bangladesh is the second-largest garment producer in the world. Employing some 3.5 million people and accounting for 80%of the country’s exports, as well as 10% of its GDP, garment workers themselves see little of the profit, and often work in appalling conditions with extended hours (14 hours per day, 7 days per week in some cases).

Women are disproportionately impacted by these conditions because they also have to take on the bulk of the household and family duties when they get home. In addition, War on Want found that workplace sexual harassment and discrimination is widespread, and even maternity rights dismissed, while a recent Human Rights Watch report adds that “workers say factory bosses lash out… for things as simple as attempting to exercise the right to reduce overtime or take sick leave.”

There are laws in place to protect women’s rights in Bangladesh but these are poorly enforced and staff are often unaware of them. It is also still common for companies to ignore the benefit of promoting an experienced seamstress to a supervisory or management post, instead recruiting a young man fresh from university to manage the factory floor, leaving little opportunity for women to advance their position and earnings capacity within the workplace.

Raising awareness of gender equity issues

This new project – Gender Equity Awareness Raising in Fair Trade Artisan Groups – will train staff from six organisations with knowledge about women’s rights and legal entitlements so that they can transmit that knowledge within their workplace and engage with management to reduce gender-based workplace discrimination, all the while educating their colleagues on the issues.

The project will train 24 peer educators, of whom two thirds will be women, and 12 middle management, of whom one third will be women, to build awareness of women’s rights and agency within their organisations. The project will be run across 6 fair trade organisations: Thanapara Swallows, Kumudini, Artisan Hut, DEW Crafts, Prokritee and CORR The Jute Works.

Intended impact

The project aims to create better working environments within the fair trade handicrafts industry, such that women and men need not fear challenging male colleagues, supervisors, managers and factory owners if their behaviour is unfair, inappropriate or discriminatory, and ultimately to embed better working practices within the organisations concerned. While it will only immediately impact a small number of Bangladesh’s garment workers, fair trade practices have historically spearheaded improvements in the garment industry by generating demand for better conditions from the end customers.

Breaking the bias in this way, with a combination of female staff and male allies is key to greater workplace equality. Making two thirds of the peer educators women encourages them to develop their own agency and leadership skills so they’ll be able to step up to more senior roles in the future. The sustainability of the project is also important, though. All participants will receive continuous mentoring after the training to support them as they put it to use in their workplace, developing their confidence, such that the effects last well beyond the project itself.

Workers at Artisan Hut showing their W hand symbols for IWD2022, as part of a wider campaign on breaking the bias and encouraging female leadership

#SheLeadsTheWay – workers at Artisan Hut celebrating IWD

What is the People Tree Foundation?

The People Tree Foundation is a registered NGO in the UK. If you’ve bought from us in the past you may have seen that you have the option to donate with each purchase. With your help, the Foundation supports projects like this one, has helped producer partners get much-needed supplies into their communities during the pandemic, and campaigns to reduce poverty and promote environmental project and organic cotton farming. If you’d like to make a donation to support their work, please use the button below: