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‘Equality for women is progress for all’, is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8 March. FWF can only endorse that theme. In 2014 FWF continues the Preventing Workplace Violence project to help women garment workers and their managers to prevent violence.
In India FWF has successfully set up anti-harassment committees (AHC’s) in all six participating factories last year. The project was given an important new impetus by the passing of the groundbreaking Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in April 2013. The new Act could not have been better timed as far as the project is concerned.
The Act is undoubtedly an incentive for factory owners, and brands, to participate in the programme. Factories have become more interested because they felt the need to act and ‘to punish’ perpetrators. Managers have started to appreciate the effort to help them comply with the new law. Even factories outside of the project cities have made enquiries to join the programme.
More than 30.000 workers in India and Bangladesh have benefited from direct trainings or peer-to-peer education since the beginning of the project in 2012. Workers are daring to speak up about serious problems. “One evening, when I reached the factory gate, suddenly I felt two hands squeezing my breasts very hard”, a worker reported. “It was very shameful as I thought it was my fault. If I don’t speak up, the perpetrators will keep doing it, to me and to others.”
Yelling and swearing
Among line supervisors an encouraging change in attitude was observed. After the training, participants came to a strong consensus on stopping harassment at the workplace. They started to realise that yelling and swearing were forms of harassment too, which discourages production. “We do use sexual swear words but not with a bad intention”, a male participant explained. “We do it simply to get production done.”
Sexual harassment and violence against women are widespread problems in garment factories in Bangladesh and India. The Preventing Workplace Violence project became among the first efforts in any industry to implement the new Indian law. In November, FWF presented the initial outcomes of the project at the UN Women office in Delhi.