Violence against women is a major global issue significantly impacting the health, wellbeing and rights of women around the world. In Bangladesh, the issue is particularly pronounced for the women who constitute the vast majority of RMG workers and serve as the driving force of an industry which contributes over 81 percent to Bangladesh’s export income. A recent study1 found that majority of RMG workers suffered verbal, mental, physical and sexual harassment from employers and colleagues.

In this backdrop, with the aim to ensure mental health and wellbeing among women RMG workers and address issues of gender-based violence faced by women in this sector, SAJIDA Foundation started implementing the project “Working with Women Phase II” in January 2018 with the support of SNV Bangladesh. The project which targets approximately 3,500 women workers in two garment factories, has undertaken a number of activities to create awareness, encouraging dialogue and practice of mental health and wellbeing alongside physical health of women RMG workers. Key project activities include:

o Providing training to factory workers and mid-level management on gender-based violence.

o Providing training to welfare officers to work as para counselors for factory employees.

o Focused training for male garment workers on laws related to gender-based violence and other related issues.

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Training for factory workers and mid-level management: Factory workers as well as mid-level management are provided training on gender-based violence, using curricula and training modules developed during the Working with Women pilot phase.

Training for Welfare Officers: Training is provided to welfare officers to enable them to work as paracounselors and provide psychological counseling support as well. Through this training they are able to identify such cases through early detection, awareness and apply appropriate interventions. This, in turn, capacitates workers to handle workplace stress, combat social/domestic/workplace conflicts, embrace positive communication and thus lead a healthy and productive life.

Training for RMG workers: Garment workers undergo a training session in batches of 30 trainees where 40% of the trainees are male. The session focuses on informing them about the laws related to gender-based violence and related issues. The factories that have received trainings will work on creating an anti-harassment committee and this committee will help the workers if they face any issues. If the issues are overwhelming for the committee, the workers will be referred to SAJIDA Foundation where they will intervene to resolve any problems they face.

Working with Women – Phase II is scheduled to run for a span of four years, and the next step of this project is to conduct training sessions and provide training of trainers (TOT) to the welfare officers. This project will work on implementing anti-harassment committees in factories and expand to more factories to increase visibility and impact.

Fatema Khatun

Ms. Fatema Khatun has been working as a welfare officer at a garments factory called Comfit Composite for the last two years. Her job responsibilities include looking after the female workers and their wellbeing, finding out if they have any grievances, and giving advice to help them cope with or overcome issues they might be facing. She has been trained as a trainer under the Working with Women – Phase II project as a Paracounselor, and she finds that this training has helped her work effectively with the issues she faces with garments workers.

Before this training, Fatema was unaware of the concept of mental health, and how severely one’s mental health can be affected by gender-based violence. Through this training, Fatema can now effectively provide help to anyone suffering mental pressures.  For instance, she once had to provide counselling to a worker who missed work for twenty days due to gender-based violence. The worker came to work with a bruised arms, neck and face and informed Fatema that she had suffered the assault in the hands of her husband and had to flee from home, fearing for her life. Fatema was able to help the worker resume her job and provide her the mental support she needed to get her life back on track. Fatema hopes that she will be able to help people better in the future as now she has proper understanding of this concept and knows the tools to deal with gender-based violence, sexual harassment and related mental health issues.

WORKING WITH WOMEN: PHASE II OBSERVES WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY

The project “Working With Women: Phase II” organized day observations in RMG factories for World Mental Health day on 10 and 11 October, 2018. The participating factories were NR Fashion in Narayanganj and Comfit Composite Knit Ltd in Mirzapur, Tangail where a total of 93 participants partook the event. The day observation was done to raise awareness on mental health, gender based violence and legal issues.

The participants were engaged in an interactive session about mental health issues and how to cope with any stressors, and was followed by an activity where the participants were given cutouts that they had to assemble to form a picture. They discussed about what their perception of the final images were, and it resulted in interesting dialogues about how women and men perceive gender related issues and made the participants more aware of different emotions. A quiz was conducted where the participants were rewarded with chocolates, and the program ended with a gift giving ceremony by SNV Bangladesh. Stickers and festoons with messages about mental health were given to the participants that they can use to disseminate the knowledge the learned in this session.