Click here to go to the Home Page
 
 

BlackCommentator.com: Bangladesh: A Project for "Liberated" Women in the U.S. - Represent Our Resistance - By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD - BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

   
Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article
 

 
 
 
The stars shone down on Rabeya, and the embers glowed in the chula. Like the stream rising from the bubbling pot, her thoughts dissipated into the evening air to mingle with the same unanswered questions of centuries of philosophers and sages.
God alone could from the earth make a man, whereas all over the world it has been possible to have land by means of men, or at least the product of the land, which comes down to the same thing.
-Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization

Gertrude N. Cunningham was that teacher everyone says they remember, one teacher who made a big difference in their life,” begins the Managing Editor at the Black Commentator, Nancy Littlefield, but she was more: BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?Mrs. Cunningham “guided me from early childhood to student-hood, from looking inward, to seeing myself as part of the larger world, from lost little child to capable young woman” (June 23, 2011).

Among the projects and activities Mrs. Cunningham organized for her 4th grade class 50 years ago, there was one that caught my attention: “She wrote our class play to be a trip around the world,” writes Littlefield. The children in this class danced and sang “about one country after another.”

“I think of her often, knowing what a huge positive influence she has been in my life.”

Would it be possible today for a Mrs. Cunningham to announce to her class of students a trip to Bangladesh, today’s Bangladesh, enmeshed as that country is in globalization? Today, we will travel to… and she would walk to the map of the world and let the pointer rest on the nation surrounded by India (all sides) except Myanmar to the southeast and the Bay of Bengali to the South.

Bangadesh, students!

The People’s Republic of Bangledesh, according to Wikipedia, is a sovereign state. It won its liberation from Pakistan in 1971 and since 1991, it has experienced “relative calm and economic progress.” The U.S. State Department raves about its “excellent” relationship (“friendship”) with Bangladesh.

The Internet provides us with tour guides. See the old and the modern, thriving Bangladesh! “Know Bangladesh” (National Portal of Bangladesh) through its “archaeological sites, historical mosques and monuments, longest natural bench in the world, picturesque landscape, hill forests and wildlife, rolling tea gardens and tribes.”

At Bangladesh.com, the promo reads: “Dharka is a great place to start your visit to this amazing country.” Dharka, Bangladesh’s largest city, the city of Mosques, the city of skyscrapers, of hills, of houses…

Streets are filled with people in traditional and western garb. There are so many women briskly walking among the taxi and bus horns blaring. Foreign tourists talk and chatter among the spectacle structures. Rolls and rolls of film to develop to show the folks back home and to remember…Video cameras capture images of family members and friends posing before the Lalbash Fort or the National Museum which houses, we are told, “a large number of interesting collections” including “sculptures and paintings of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim periods,” along with “inscriptions of the Holy Quran in Arabic and Persian works in Arabic” (Betelco.com).

Shops and street vendors display souvenirs. And the tea gardens are really “lush” with tea leaves plucked mostly by women (Bangladesh.com). In fact, of the 300,000 employees of the tea estates, 75% are women since women “do a better job and are paid less than men.”

There are the billboards, too! I am sure we would see multinational corporations like Monsanto, Monsanto Bangladesh Limited, located in Dharka on the 13th floor, 70/I Inner Circular Road, Kakrail. Monsanto - “meeting the needs of today while preserving the planet for tomorrow.”

Some objected. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva wrote a letter to the Microcredit Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, President, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, in which she stated the following:

Monsanto's skills in agriculture are in the field of genetically engineered crops. These crops are designed to use more agrichemicals like Round-up which is a broad spectrum herbicide that kills anything green. Your microcredit venture with Monsanto will directly finance the destruction of the green vegetables that women collect from the fields. Round-up also has negative impacts on fish which provide 80% of the animal protein in Bangladesh.

While we stop for tea or eat a meal while the poor look on…

…because there is another Dharka of dark streets even in the daylight. If we really want to “know” Bangladesh and understand the friendship between the West and Bangladesh, we should see this other Dharka.

This Dharka is home to 75% percent of the nation’s 3,000 garments industries. This industry is the largest employer, after agriculture (International Trade Union Conference), with some 3.5 million workers. It is a 5 billion dollar business and growing.

We do not want to miss it because the garment industry is becoming a huge source of income for Bangladesh According to TourBangaldesh.com, the garment industry “has given the opportunity of employment to millions of unemployed specially innumerable uneducated women in the country. It is making significant contribution in the field of our export income.”

True, 80% of the employees at these garment factories are women, daughters and mothers, young girls. These women workers produce “Ready Made Garments” the kind of clothes smart buyers in the U.S. purchase at the Gap (Banana Republic and Old Navy), Walmart, J.C. Penny’s, Kohl’s, and Macy’s. These are the kind of garments that make U.S. women and girls look good, girl and feel empowered!

In Dharka, local and rural girls and women flip through job ads like the following:

Advance Attire LTD, Shah Ali Bagh (4th and 5th fl.), Section #1, Mirpur, [nearby town], Dharka-1216 B. Tel: (off) 029005662.02:9007538. Fax: (off) 02-801739. (Shirts, Jackets, Pants).

See “Key personnel: Salam Hossam Chowdhury, C.E.O.” Oh, there is money to be made in the garment industry for “key personnel” and other neighboring citizens of a certain means and ambition.

There is so much money to be made that when women at the factory, owned by the Ha-Meem Group just north of Dharka in Ashulla, were also critical of working conditions and wages and decided to stage a “peaceful” protest, several of them were killed. A few days later, on December 17, 2010, a fire at that factory in Ashulla killed 29 workers and injured over 100 - “trapped behind exits locked by their employees” (The Jewish Daily Forward, March 6, 2011). Fifty women jumped from the 10th floor of the factory where 5,000 made “pants for customers [mostly women] in the West” who purchase clothes from the Gap, Walmart, and J.C. Penny’s.

Surprised, a spokesperson for the Gap said that for “more than 15 years, Gap Inc has worked to bring fair and safe working conditions to factories around the world.”

‘We conduct periodic, unannounced audits of factories to ensure safety, and we were on-site in April and August at this factory. Among the many requirements of our Code of Vendor Conduct is that there are regular fire drills and other safety measures in place.’ (The Guardian U.K., December 14, 2011)

But somewhere along the line between the Gap and the Ha-Meem Group communications, I guess, broke down in favor of the bottom line not to mention those women back in the U.S. and the U.K. who want to look good, girl for less.

Back in Dharka, the women and girls we see sitting behind the sewing machines wear mostly traditional garments, but they work 12-14 hours per day, six days a week, to produce the latest fashion - Western fashion - made from durable Bangladesh textiles. For their contribution to Bangladesh’s income and for the benefit of looking-good-girl women in America, these women workers are paid between 13-17 cents per hour. These women garment workers are “the world’s most poorly paid workers” (International Trade Union Conference). (“There by the grace of God…” I’m an American, Christian women in the U.S. respond. “That’s business!” everyone else says).

And as a result of the working conditions, they are not so healthy either. According to Gaurav Doshi, June 2006 article, “Overview of Bangadesh Garment Industry,”

A research reveals that 90 percent of the garment employees went through illness or disease during the month before the interviews. Headache, anemia, fever, chest, stomach, eye and ear pain, cough and cold, diarrhea, dysentery, urinary tract infection and reproductive health problems were more common diseases. (Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/367773)

Most of these women workers only manage to work four years in a garment factory Doshi adds (and as we see in pictures we have to search far and wide for): “the state of employment in many (not necessarily) textiles and clothing units in the developing nations take us back to those set up in the nineteenth century in Europe and North America.”

Night falls in Dharka. The day is done for the tourists, the business owners, and the middle class managerial workers. But there is little rest for the women garment workers. As Gary Null, WBAI Radio, June 24, 2011) explained, they are silhouette figures, now, walking along the streets and roads, making the long distance trip home, only to resume this walk in reverse in the wee hours of the morning.

Here in Dharka, in the Ready Made Garment district, we are worlds away from the life of the owners of the skyscrapers, the American and British corporate and NGO managers, some educated at the finest universities in the West, and tourists who visit the world’s largest natural beach and Dharka’s monuments.

The city of Mosques is also a city of sweatshops, of suffering, of death, and like so many cities and rural areas globally and here at home, experiencing that “excellent” friendship with the U.S. government and its corporate partners.

No, a Mrs. or Mr. or Dr. Cunningham is even rarer today! Teachers cannot attempt this project today in a U.S. classroom - and worse, most will not try. The Thought Police will not have it because the task of schools and universities in the modern U.S.A. is to produce corporate managers and American girls and women who must not be made to think or question the imperialist authorities.

[NOTE: Thanks to WBAI Radio Host Gary Null for discussing the plight of Bangladeshi women, June 24, 2011. Thanks to Mrs. Cunningham and Nancy Littlefield.]

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.

 
 
Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article
 
Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue
 
 

e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.

 
 
 
July 7, 2011 - Issue 434
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Publisher:
Peter Gamble
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.