Dhaka, Wednesday, 29 September 2021

RMG sector must address sexual harassment at work places


A survey report of a coalition of NGOs in August 2018 revealed that 86 per cent of the workers who took part in study said that they had faced harassment from their supervisors or other male colleagues. Seventy-six per cent of the workers said that they faced various forms of violence from stalkers and transport workers outside the factory. A new study conducted by Karmojibi Nari notes that women workers are unwilling to report such abuse as the grievance mechanism systems are ineffective. An apparel worker was allegedly sexually harassed by an official of the factory at Ashulia on March 18, 2019.

When the 18-year-old and her 16 colleagues protested at the incident, their jobs were terminated. The workers kept holding protests, demanding their jobs back and disciplinary action against the abuser.

In such a situation, it is understandable why majority of the workers chose not to speak against sexual harassment.

According to various reports, women workers face various forms of abuse in factory that include abusive verbal reprimand, being groped during security check, unwanted touch by male colleagues, intimidation by way of demanding sexual favours and corporal punishment. Not much has been done to create a safe workplace environment for women in the apparel sector.

Although a High Court order legally binds all factories to have anti-sexual harassment committees, only 4 per cent of factories have committees in place. The Karmojibi Nari survey finds a causal relationship between the lower rate of reported sexual harassment and the lack of unionisation in the apparel sector. The survey, conducted in September 2018–February 2019 on 300 factories in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj, revealed that only 5 per cent of the factories have trade unions.

Labour rights activists argue that registered union in each factory will make workers aware of their rights and empower them to act in cases of violations. Apparel factory managements generally are disinterested in tackling patriarchal biases in their operation.

Women are considered docile and more exploitable and almost never hired as management-level staff even when they have the skills and experience. As long as women are treated as cheap and expendable labour, the discrimination and violence will continue.

It is time that the labour ministry ensured that all factories have anti-sexual harassment committees and facilitated the process of trade union registration in the sector. It must also involve various national and international labour rights groups and the representation of workers in such committees.