“The workers come to share the stories that they cannot share with anyone else. The cafes serve as safe spaces for them,” she said.
ActionAid Bangladesh supports 25 workers cafés which provide advice, training and support on a range of issues, such as being paid the minimum wage, unfair dismissal and sexual violence and harassment.
Nasima helps to support garment workers to understand labour law and their rights. She often hears heartbreaking stories of violence, although most women are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution from senior management.
“Once a worker was bold enough to share an incident of rape with me. However, most workers are not comfortable to talk about such incidents,” she said.
“Typically, their situation deteriorates after they complain. Most workers think the best option for them after an incident of sexual harassment is to quit,” she says.
But since the opening of the worker cafés, Nasima has found that the women are more confident in challenging unfair and abusive treatment at work.
“They are now more aware, sensitive and vocal about different issues. They recognise injustices and stand up for themselves and others. The workers now are pushing the factory management to be compliant with the laws and regulations.”
Women are more informed about their rights, but still face other forms of discrimination and possible dismissal if they get pregnant or ask for a salary increase.
“Even after working hard, they still have to struggle to provide for themselves and their families.
“Saving for the future and hoping to offer a good life to their children look like dreams that are too big for them to achieve.”
Wages and working conditions continue to be the key challenges for Bangladeshi garment workers, but Nasima hopes that these cafés are just the beginning of positive change.
We launched the She Wears the Cost campaign, with frontline campaigners from Bangladesh and Cambodia, at ActionAid Australia’s online General Assembly on 24 April. The She Wears the Cost campaign is calling on Australian and international clothing brands to support the women who make their clothes.
Stand with women garment workers demanding justice. Get behind the campaign by signing the petition today.