It was around 1993 when some women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories used to come visit me. The problems they faced at that time were less wages, long and extra hours of work, no transport back home, no matter how late at night it may be, absence of maternity leave, and to top it all, sexual harassment. Today, 22 years on, the problems remain just as acute. The same poverty, the same abysmal work conditions, the same low wages and the same rampant sexual harassment. Occasionally, we come across news of how there was a fire in some factory and several women succumbed to it.
These factories came into being somewhere around 1976, hit a peak period around the 90s and continue to thrive till now. So much so that today, Bangladesh’s chief export is garments. A majority of workers in these factories are women, and therefore, largely neglected by the nation’s lawmakers. If the country understood the worth of this workforce, it would have created a better working environment for them. But what it has inflicted upon them is a labyrinth of lies and deceit, completely setting aside all international labour laws. MisogyBangladesh has, in fact, honed its skills in keeping its women in the worst possible scenario.
There is no benevolent attitude in offering employment to women, instead, the attitude is that of looking at women as “cheap objectified subjects” rather than as human beings. These women cannot ask for better, more humane conditions of employment, but can be forced to work ungodly hours to suit their masters’ needs. The idea of labour is the means to an end. If there is death along the way, there is always more cheap labour available to fill the space.
But then, there is a gender bias of wages not only in Bangladesh but across the world. Gender stereotyping — the judgment passed on a human being based on their gender — is an inherent vice that has dug deep roots in society. Some familiar examples are the notion that a woman doesn’t need money to survive because a family is run by its male head. Thus, her earnings are but a frivolous sum and her work outside is trivial. It is the men who carry everything on their shoulders; women do not have it in them to work at higher posts or to take important decisions in a workplace. They are emotional by nature, prone to sentiments and frail, hence more suitable for raising children rather than raising professional issues. This gender bias makes it easier for women to lose jobs than to get them.
The world is changing rapidly and women these days are not only handling their families but are also instrumental in sustaining them. But still, they lag behind men in all facets of life. The roots of this gender bias are so deep that they are impossible to get rid of no matter how many times a woman puts herself through a trial and comes out victorious. The standards by which women are measured even today are their beauty and not by their qualifications. And because women are looked upon as sex objects rather than human beings, it is easier for young beautiful women to get jobs — we have all heard about terms like “casting couch” and sexual favours asked from women to give them a job that they deserved on merit in any case. Women are targeted for harassment wherever they are. This is more rampant in places where their basic rights are denied on a daily basis.
Just a few days ago, an acquaintance argued with me that the muscular superiority of men entitles them to a higher place than women who are by nature weaker. I refuted it by asking if every job was a physical test that required brute strength? The reply was “No.” So I asked, “Then how did brawn found more favour than brains?” I received no reply, but I am certain he was hurling the choicest of profanities at me in his head.
What we first need to do is to get rid of such anti-women myths. If not, these will further fuel the gender bias that has become so predominant in society. To cure any illness, we must first eradicate its cause, else it will always lurk behind the shadows bidding its time.
About half the world’s population consists of women. If such a force is considered to be weak, denied the opportunities they are entitled to, and their contributions go unacknowledged, then it is matter of shame for the entire human race. As I have so often repeated, women are not meant only for household chores and sexual pleasure. They are more than capable of holding their own ground, and it is time to recognise that and demolish these demarcations of society, or suffer at our own peril on its outcome.