5 Minutes Inspiration: How garment workers in Bangladesh are asserting their rights

 Economic Development
 14th Oct 2019

Manu was the only member of an EKATA group in her factory. When Manu learned her factory would close, she informed the factory managers that she and others would protest if they were not fully paid. Her leadership ensured more than 400 workers received full salaries and compensation.

OIKKO, which means Unity in Bangla, ran from 2015-2018 with funding from the European Union and the Austrian Development Agency. It reached more than 3,000 people directly and 44,000 indirectly. Evaluation found the EKATA approach, combined with support to trade unions, is far more effective than standard training for supporting worker empowerment. 

What have we accomplished?

  • Women demand access to legal rights & entitlements: Women’s increased skills and confidence to engage with management has enabled workers to claim maternity pay, apply for sick leave, insist on action against abusive supervisors, obtain the minimum wage, and ensure payment of salaries and compensation for factory closure.
  • Community groups work together to resolve issues affecting women: 5000+ women were participating in 170+ solidarity and community support groups by 2018. Through the EKATA model, women have successfully demanded that community leaders address sexual harassment, local authorities improve infrastructure in their homes and health providers make services more accessible.
  • Gender relations are changing at household level: EKATA groups and community actors supported women to divorce, prevent child marriage, open formal savings accounts and take control of their salaries.
  • Women are engaging with trade unions: 20,000+ women have joined trade unions. OIKKO supported unions to increase female membership, promote women's leadership and decision-making positions within unions and form new unions in 7 factories.

How did we get there?

  • Supporting women to know their rights: This included workplace rights, as well as wider women’s rights relevant to the community, such as GBV and sexual harassment.
  • Building women’s leadership and communications skills: Focusing on leadership, confidence building, collective organising and action was important, as workers applied these skills to raise demands in the workplace and community.
  • Providing a space for workers to organise: This supported them to identify gaps in access to rights, actions to address these issues, and organise collective action.
  • Gender sensitisation & outreach training for trade union & federation leaders: This demonstrated to union leaders the value of developing women union outreach activists who could reach out and organise women workers.
  • Tools for trade union & federation representatives: CARE’s Compensation Toolkit and Worker Outreach Model supported them to represent workers.

To learn more, read this blog, the full learning brief or the outcome harvest evaluation.

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