International Women’s Day’s roots extend back to 1909 when women garment workers in the United States went on strike protesting terrible working conditions, sexual harassment and low pay. Just two years later, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan killing 146 garment workers, mostly women. From the tragedy and struggle of textile workers, the foundations of today’s International Women’s Day were laid.
Many of the projects TRAID funds aim to support, empower, benefit and celebrate the women making our clothes. They are women cotton farmers in Benin who are increasing female participation in organic cotton production, mothers in Sri Lanka creating sustainable textiles using natural dyes and young girls in India who are no longer homeworkers and going to school instead.
Meet the women of AMMA, Sri Lanka
AMMA is an innovative women-led business in Sri Lanka. It’s all women team create stunning sustainable textiles using natural dyes. Founded by Josie George, many of the women employed have experienced harassment in previous workplaces and AMMA provides them with the safety of being surrounded by a cross generational team of women to learn from and find support. Josie says, “Empowerment reveals itself as small changes over time. Such as when Koglivani asked her husband to collect their child during his lunch break instead of her travelling further to do it. Or Priyadarshani, who had never worked before joining AMMA and is now the main earner with the most stable job in her household. Or, Meena, embracing that she is a role model to the community and using her new knowledge in natural dyeing to teach others.”
“Being a manager at a women-led business is a great privilege for me, I have a great time with people from different backgrounds and it is a great responsibility to satisfy the customers and employees needs.” (Meena, sustainable textile worker, AMMA)
“Amma is the best company I have ever worked for and it values me as a woman. I went to a few counselling sessions when I was pregnant, but Amma’s life skills lessons taught me new strategies to control my stress and anxiety positively. I am so glad to work here and recently I got electricity to my house using the wage of Amma.” (Rosie, sustainable textile worker, AMMA)
Meet Delphine Bodjrenou, OBEPAB
Delphine works with our partner OBEPAB to increase the number of women cotton farmers in Benin growing organically. Supporting women to be cotton producers in their own right is the focus of her work. She says “We know that organic cotton production has proved to be an opportunity for women. It allows women to do something on an equal footing as men and to have their own income.” When women grow conventionally (using pesticides) they have to rely on their husbands or male relatives to access the inputs they need, and typically women’s voices are not heard in conventional farmer organisations. Organic farming liberates women from this dependency as they can use free local resources to generate their own cotton income. Delphine is a well known figure at village meetings and workshops actively encouraging women to participate and lead field demonstrations. Now, at least 30% of organic cotton farmers in the programme are women.
Meet Wudinesh, member of the Shelle Mella Cooperative, Ethiopia
Wudinesh is an organic cotton farmer in Ethiopia. She is one of the first ever farmers in Ethiopia to get organic certification for cotton. She is part of the Shelle Mella Coop, and of the 200 certified farmers, has the highest yields of any farmer in the group! She is also the coordinator of the Women’s Spinning Association. She used to farm conventionally before participating in PAN Ethiopia’s project to reduce and stop pesticide use. She says, “The pesticide spray affected the water we drank, and it goes into the lake. Kids play downstream and drink contaminated water. Women spinning cotton are also affected with fibres in their nose and eyes from spinning.”
Meet Arshi, a student and former home worker, India
Three years ago Arshi worked alongside her mother helping her to do finishing work like stitching sequins onto garments destined to be sold on European high streets. This is a hidden part of the supply chain where exploitation is rife, including low and insecure pay. These workers are tapped to make clothes for the global market from home, but their children often work with them rather than attend school to bring in more money. For Arshi things have changed. Our partner Goodweave launched a project requiring their suppliers allow full supply chain mapping to home based working communities, many of them women. The project has ensured all child labour cases in that brand’s production is remediated, and vitally, that every child is supported to enrol in school and improve their learning outcomes. Arshi’s teachers describe her as a ‘serious student’ and this project shows that when brands commit to supply chain transparency, the labour of underage girls like Arshi is revealed meaning she can be protected and get an education instead.
Find out more about these and other TRAID funded projects here.
Read more about the issues women face in the fashion industry here.