ALTHOUGH the inclusion of women’s labour, especially in the apparel sector, into formal economy is considered a remarkable mark of progress, workplace safety has not been guaranteed for women workers. At least 90 per cent of female apparel workers are mentally tortured, 43 per cent are sexually abused and 51 per cent fall victim to physical harassment, as New Age reported on Wednesday based on findings of research on violence against women at work in the apparel sector. The researchers have interviewed 173 male and female workers since November 2017 regarding violence that female workers face at work, in public transports and in rented houses. About 39 per cent of the female respondents said that they felt insecure at work for fear of physical and sexual harassment. But the most vulnerable to violence are apprentice workers. About 34 per cent of the female workers said that they found their male colleagues and superiors indifferent when a woman faces violence or sexual harassment.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, however, sought to say that the study was designed to harm the export-oriented apparel industry. Successive governments have been successful in opening the formal labour market to women but they have failed to create a congenial and safe workplace for female workers. The gender-based unequal relations at work leading to the harassment and exploitation of female workers remain somewhat unchanged. Even though a high incidence of sexual harassment is reported in apparel units, issues of gender-based violence have not been addressed either by the labour ministry or the management as there is no effective sexual harassment prevention committee in operation at work. As per a High Court directive, the management is supposed to set up complaint committees at work and make them functional. The failure to set up an effective complaint mechanism by the authorities concerned is a glaring example of violation of the court directive. Women are considered docile and more exploitable a workforce and are almost never hired as management staff even when they have the skills and experience. As long as women are treated as a cheap and expendable labour force, discrimination and violence against them will never end.
The existing labour law does not have any provisions to address the issues of sexual violence in the industrial sector. It is time that the BGMEA involved national and international labour rights groups to legally address the issue and provide for an effective grievance mechanism for female workers to ensure safe and congenial atmosphere for female workers.
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