Bangladesh is the world’s second largest supplier of clothes to the global market. Moreover, about 80 percent of the country’s exports and four million people depends on the garment industry. Garment workers are the reason why Bangladesh’s economy is doing well, but most of the workers are not getting their fair share of which most of them are women.
Asian University for Women is an international, liberal arts and sciences university in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Its sole purpose is to educate and empower the future female leaders of Asia and the Middle East. In its recruitment exercises a preferential option for women from historically marginalized and underserved communities, including refugees, garments workers, women from conflict areas and daughter of tea estate workers.
Almost 900 women are currently enrolled at the University and over 1,000 have graduated. The majority of graduates return to their home countries to work in governments, on-profits and corporations, making a positive change in their communities. About 25% of graduates pursue graduate school at institutions including Cambridge, Brandeis, Johns Hopkins and New York University.
Following this, four female readymade garment industry workers of Bangladesh were among the graduating students who were conferred degrees at the eighth convocation of Asian University for Women (AUW) held virtually on 16 December. They have completed their graduation from AUW’s 2020 graduating class.
The workers are: Shathy Halder, Shahnaz Ara Khanam, Sadeka Begum, and Yeasmin Akhter Urmy.
They were part of “Pathways for Promise” program, jointly introduced by the AUW and Dr Rubana Huq, President of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), five years ago.
As they are now graduates but their journey was not too easy. Five years ago, Sadeka Begum was working 12-hour shifts in a garment factory as the main earner for her family but now she aims to inspire female workers to become leaders and boost women’s rights across industries. Another graduate, Yasmin Akhter, was a packer in a Garments Industry but now she wants to see everyone with the same eyes, no matter what department someone is working in. She also wants everyone to treat workers well.
This year, 120 students of the batch of 2020, from 12 different countries including Nepal, India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Syria, Myanmar, Pakistan and Indonesia – attended the convocation ceremony. Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was held virtually and was aired live from the AUW Facebook page.
BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Haque and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Ferr joined the event as introductory speakers.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Cherry Blair, Chancellor of the Asian University of Women, Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University, Kamal Ahmed, Founder of AUW and Prof. Nirmala Rao, Vice-Chancellor of AUW.
Among the graduates Sadeka Begum wants to pursue her masters and is applying to Cambridge University. Fellow RMG worker Yesmin Akhter Urmy has been offered to join IPDC as a junior relationship manager. Shathy Halder is currently working in Mohammadi Group in the compliance department. Shahnaz Ara Khanam is looking for jobs in international NGOs.