Afrina is a 22-year old garment worker in Dhaka. She has been working as a machine operator for five years and because of her hard work she was being considered for a promotion to supervisor position at her factory. However, her line manager and male coworkers were not happy with her getting this opportunity and they started to verbally harass her so that she would not take this position.
Gender-based violence and harassment can take various forms and verbal harassment can be an effective tool used by men to intimidate women. The type of harassment faced by Afrina include her male coworkers questioning her ability – “you are weak, you don’t have what it takes to be a leader. You cannot manage other workers.” When that didn’t work, they resorted to questioning her character – “You are a woman of bad character if you want to work until 10 p.m.”
Facing these sustained verbal attacks, Afrina started to doubt whether she should pursue the promotion after all. But Awaj Foundation had helped set up an anti-harassment committee (AHC) at her factory and Afrina was a member of that committee. Through her involvement with the AHC she got to know about the laws against GBV and discrimination in the workplace. She reported the harassers to the AHC and with the support of Awaj and the AHC they raised the issue with management. The harassers were punished and Afrina got her promotion. She is now thriving in her post and her increased income is a great help to her family.
The case of Afrina shows that harassment is a big reason why women are not able to progress in their careers in the garment sector and the supervisor and manager positions are still overwhelmingly held by men. However, rights awareness and accountability mechanisms such as AHCs can help women fight back. This is why Awaj Foundation focuses on structural changes, such as AHCs, so that women workers can be free to pursue their career goals.