Igniting the blazing trail towards promoting gender equality, a photo exhibition, Beyond the Sewing Machine, was arranged by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Wednesday, 7th March, 2018.
Aligned with International Women’s Day and hosted at the Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands, the provoking exhibition shone light on the work done to empower women as part of the RMG programme, launched by ILO.
Partnered with the embassies of the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom, gracing the event were dignitaries of the diplomatic world such as Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, HE Leoni Margaretha Cuelenaere, Md Shamsuzzaman Bhuiyan, Inspector General of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments and Anne-Laure Henry-Greard, Senior Operations and Programme Support Officer of the ILO RMG Programme. Moreover, noteworthy employees and workers of the RMG sectors were among the other attendees.
In response to the epically disastrous collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April, 2013, ILO launched the Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector Programme later that year. Striving towards safer and improved fire and building safety in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector, the RMG programme was nothing short of a phoenix rising from the ashes. With the objectives taking place in phases, the glamorous photo exhibition marked the successful end of the first phase of the programme, highlighting deserving success stories and achievements. With the second phase already duly underway, the masterpieces of the evening was all about empowered women as a product of the tremendous work carried out by ILO’s RMG programme.
Out of the many achievements scored under its belt, ILO’s RMG programme has inspected factories to ensure safety, resulting in the closure of 39 such factories failing to meet safety standards, rehabilitating injured workers and providing necessary psychological and medical support and remediation of factories. The ILO’s RMG programme has even helped reform the governmental institute of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments to help it become a more credible and accountable body with better inspection tools and a more focused foundational training programmes.
Actions of the first phase also emphasized gender issues and a more gender-inclusive workplace in factories. Empowering female workers was yet another major success of the first phase of the RMG programme. And this is exactly what stole the limelight at the exhibition: women empowerment.
Brilliantly captured by photographer Naymuzzaman Prince, the photos showcased spoke about the empowered roles more and more females were motivated to take on in factories. Whether the stories were of a worker solving a dispute, a seminar on psychological counselling, a labour inspector riding a motorcycle to work or simply a supervisor chatting with a subordinate behind a sewing machine – at the centre of it all stood a woman taking charge in all her glory.
Shammin Sultana, programme officer and gender specialist poured in her two cents, “The main motive of the event is to showcase our progress and what we have managed to achieve so far. Conveying our stories of pride and joy through the powerful medium of photographs can speak to the audience and tell the right narratives.”
Shipra Chowdhury, Training Officer at Better Work Bangladesh, an ILO-IFC flagship programme dedicated to improving working conditions at the factory-floor level also shared, “With the number of female leaders being very low in factories, the reason is probably because they feel they can’t fulfil the responsibilities of the job. They haven’t found their voice yet. That is what we focus on at training sessions. And now, we can see more and more women making the jump from the sewing line to supervisory positions.”
Akhlima, the worker climbing the ladder at a factory for Next Collections Limited shares her story of empowerment, “Starting off as a sewing operator, I’ve been working for Next for six years now. I used to wonder how my supervisor could do it all. I could never imagine myself in his shoes. But now, I see the change and stride in myself the training programmes by ILO has brought on. I’ve been promoted to a supervisor now and I can safely vouch for the safety conditions in the factory I work at.”
The closing speeches at the event were promptly delivered by the Ambassador of the Netherlands among others. Reflecting back, she stipulates, “In the photos, you’ll be able to experience how a female worker has developed skills and accessed promotion. Only a confident, knowledgeable and empowered worker can take control of their own lives.”
And with a few more weighted and ecstatically appreciative words from the empowered female workers relentlessly slaving away in the RMG sector, the merry evening finally drew to a delightful end.
Photo: Naymuzzaman Prince/ILO