AWAJ – giving a voice to Bangladesh’s Women Garment Workers
AWAJ, which means “voice” in Bangla, is a foundation that has over 37,000 members and 37 full-time staff. It has helped settle thousands of disputes regarding wages, overtime, holidays and maternity leave in hundreds of factories.
AWAJ was founded in 2003 by Nazma Akter who is one of the country’s most respected and influential labor leaders. Nazma is not against garment factories which she believes empower women by giving them greater choice and opportunity. However, she is resolutely against exploitative and dangerous working practices and strives to ensure women get treated fairly. As Nazma argues, “When a woman garment worker knows her rights, she can demand them from the factory.”
Here is a brief timeline of Nazma Akter’s extraordinary life:
1986: 11-year-old Nazma starts working in a Dhaka garment factory.
1987: Nazma joins fellow garment workers in a protest against working conditions in her factory. For this, she was beaten up by hired thugs and tear-gassed by the police.
1994: She decides to stop working in factories and commits herself wholeheartedly to fighting for workers’ rights.
2003: Nazma, together with a group of other ex-garments workers, establishes the AWAJ foundation that advocates workers’ rights. AWAJ means “voice” in Bangla.
2010: AWAJ helps increase the minimum wage for textile workers from €16 to €30 per month.
Today: AWAJ is a force to be reckoned with and Nazma Akter is internationally known and respected.
AWAJ Aims & Goals
• promote welfare of workers, particularly destitute and neglected women, children, and the elderly and disabled.
• foster a cooperative relationship between workers and factory management and avoid confrontation, especially violence
• create awareness and provide training regarding workers’ rights and responsibilities, environmental pollution and occupational health and safety.
• uphold the rights – particularly of women – in the social, economic and political spheres.
• mobilize workers and institutionally support them regarding their rights.
• develop a universal platform for workers, especially women workers.
• build public awareness and take legal action against sexual harassment, rape, and human trafficking.
• tackle various social issues like poverty alleviation, gender, education, preservation of cultural heritage, violence against women, health and safety.
• create a fund to transform the organization into a sustainable institution.