It is time to get rid of the stigma
Rekha has resigned from her job from a renowned RMG factory after serving for three years. She joined as an apprentice who took her job very seriously from day one. Her job involved pushing trolleys laden with garments, putting garments in sacks for sending to the wash, issuing thread cones to the operators in the sewing lines, and the like.
She had no experience to start with. But she had very keen eyes and a strong desire to learn how to operate a machine confidently and quickly pick up processes which are valued much and sought after.
Among some successful senior operators, she found a role model in the factory, who inspired her. She was basically an obedient worker who did not need a reminder to use the mask, put down the eye guard in her machine, dress in a clean and tidy uniform, have her head scarf on, and keep her workstation organized.
She drew almost Tk20,000 per month including her over time, performance bonus, and other entitlements. She helped her parents by sending money to them in Rangpur and supported a younger brother’s schooling.
Just a few days back, she went on leave to spend some quality time with her family. The news came like a bolt from the blue when her father announced that she was to be married off. She must leave the job, her father demanded, and come back home because her marriage has been settled with a boy from the next village.
She was in tears while submitting her resignation. She disclosed that she had never seen the boy and heard he ran a small grocery shop in the village.
However painful it was, Rekha had to leave and submit herself to the desire of her parents and accept the wedding proposal.
Another case: Sakina approached the HRD of her company for a loan from her provident fund. She served 10 years and accumulated a hefty amount. The authority was kind to consider her case because she was planning to marry her daughter off.
She got the loan and was happy that she could organize the cherished ceremonies in a befitting manner. Her husband drives an auto rickshaw to play his part in the family.
The lady working as Sakina’s personnel manager happened to be a mother figure to the workers because of her intimate involvement with them on a daily basis. They shared many of their inner stories at ease with her.
Sakina in the form of a friendly chat shared with her that she was not going to disclose that she served in a garments factory. On inquiry, she said that the last time a family came with a marriage proposal, and they came to learn the mother’s occupation, they didn’t take the step further.
The aforementioned are typical cases that show the kind of social stigma our RMG sector workers have to put up with. Is it not very unfortunate that the sector which is doing so much for our economy does not have social acceptance?
Why is the profession looked down upon? What is the working environment? Is it something so demeaning?
We need to have a closer look at things. RMG is dominated by women workers, with more than 90% being female. It is much more friendly and supportive of women compared to domestic help in the country or even abroad.
In domestic worker positions, there are a lot of cases of maltreatment, torture, oppression of various kinds against which the victims have hardly any say.
On the contrary, the minimum facility that a compliant workplace in RMG provides will include a guaranteed salary at the end of the month, freshly cooked meals at noon, regular health check-ups by an in house doctor, emergency medical care, festival allowances, death compensation, maternity leave with full three months’ salary, and in case of diseases such as TB, six months’ leave with salary.
These are some of the benefits that are only available to RMG workers. Most of them come from villages with no skill. It is during the job that they turn themselves into skilled workers who earn their bread with dignity. They are not at the mercy of anybody.
How then do we deal with the state of affairs prevailing now? How to promote their social acceptance? Can media, our society as a whole, help?
The happy faces and performers in this sector deserve a proper focus. There are workers who happen to be the only bread-earners of the family, taking care of a sick father or mother, caring for a jobless husband, buying a coveted mobile phone for a jobless brother, and paying for children’s education.
The contribution of RMG to our economy is well known to everybody. Besides the fact that RMG is our largest export earning sector, its socio-economic impact is also enormous. When a husband, a father, or a brother in the family is unable to manage a means of earning, a brave girl takes a step forward.
She comes to the city taking a big challenge of acclimatizing into this new world and get the wheel rolling. Think of the chain of activity it has initiated. The shopping places, hospitals, diagnostic centres, medicine shops, grocery shops, restaurants, wayside vendors on the road, cheap jewellery, numerous buses, human haulers, auto-rickshaws running on the road, you name it.
I have seen jobless young men swarming around EPZ and earning a livelihood just by writing applications of female workers on common things like resignations, loans from their provided funds, preparing a CV of an applicant and the like.
The other day I happened to glance at some graffiti on the wall which said: “When women own property, they are owned by none.” It seems that we are dead against our women owning any property or being masters of their own fates.
In spite of doing so much for their families and the country as a whole, where exactly is women empowerment taking place?
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad (retd) takes care of HR and Admin in a multi-national RMG organization.