The Freedom Factory

Are you an early riser? If you are, you’ve probably seen them. Every morning, they head together to their workplaces. They are the female workers of ready-made garments industries in Bangladesh. While they walk, they hold firmly to their lunch boxes and keep their eyes on the street. They are determined to change their fate.

The statistics is staggering. Around 1.5 million women work in the export oriented garments industries of Bangladesh, which is 80 percent of the total workforce. Even a few years ago, women from the underprivileged portion of the population were even afraid to dream about such a change. Hope was something synonymous to echo, which reflected back to them when they hoped for anything but a confined shelter in their husband’s home. Such a shelter came with a price of hefty dowry and torture from the sadomasochistic and illiterate husbands. In a society, where the only vent to freedom is education, these women usually cannot even finish their fifth grade before they have to leave schools.

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The garments industry came as another pathway to empowerment. It provided the taste of independence that these women could never dream of. When this industry was rising in Bangladesh, they jumped on the very first wagon of freedom to prove what they could do if given an opportunity. They are paid a nominal wage; they have to face a lot of hurdles from the society which is not yet ready to accept them outside the four walls. But, the hunger for independence is insatiable. They have learnt how to work along with the men and in most of the cases surpass their male counterparts in terms of productivity. In the male dominant domain of Bangladesh, this is a silent revolution.

Despite the persisting problems of worker-owner conflicts on wages, sabotage and infrastructure issues, the ready-made garments industries are the single most important export sector of Bangladesh, standing third among all the garments exporting nations in the world. When you buy a T-shirt with the tag “Made in Bangladesh” from a super shop in America or UK, you might wonder how a small country like Bangladesh conquered the textile market of the world. Well, now you know who are behind this victory. These little women have found the factories of freedom they have been waiting for decades.

Freedom is now.


This series has been completed in Narayanganj and Dhaka in 2011.

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Till the recent devastating & tragic fire in a BD garment factory, we were only aware of the economic upliftment enjoyed by innumerable poor BD women – & we live almost next door. I wonder what people know is more distant lands. Such is our news media