At its most simple, storytelling is an engaging way of sharing ideas between individuals. But storytelling is also an intimate part of human life and an embodied experience within many cultures. Mutual exchange of stories can help individuals to make sense of their life experiences and everyday struggles. The process translates memories into a more solid means of being handed down, verbally or through writing, between generations and communities. Yet, stories are also constantly in flux, being rewritten, reconstructed and reimagined. For many, storytelling can have an even deeper purpose. Stories inspire hope.
Within the context of the garment industry, exchange of stories can empower
underrepresented women. Indeed, it has been shown that storytelling is an ancient practice of healing, used for centuries as a universal way for individuals to cope with grievance or loss. As such, the sharing of personal experiences can remind individuals that they are not alone, thereby building strength and reaffirming a sense of peace.
Increasingly, societies are also recognising the power of listening to stories to inspire a renewed sense of hopefulness. Within our fast-paced society, we all too easily glance over the array of benefits that listening to others’ stories can have for our collective mental wellbeing - listening requires a building of attentiveness and empathy as we learn about another’s life experiences. In this way, stories allow people to connect with each other through building an appreciation of their emotional experiences and, often, revealing that you are not so different from them. Particularly amid the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us have had to slow down and this has given rise to a renewed chance for societies to listen and learn about the experiences of others across the world.
In revealing the struggles that many women face in their society to be respected as workers, Daliya Akhtar shares her frustration at how her factory managers refused to pay herself and her co-workers their wages (Kelly, 2020). Reflected in a recent film on women in the garment industry, “Made in Bangladesh”, Rubaiyat Hossain, the film’s director, explains that he “wanted to show that if you grow up in a society where you are pushed and shoved around…at some point that rage will come out”. However, Hossain goes on to say that he “wanted to show that it can be a driving force for change”. Indeed, Daliya’s indignation at the working conditions she endured fuelled her drive to later become one of the first women to establish a garment workers’ union in 2013.
Through listening to Daliya’s story, it becomes crucial to realise that these women are often not victims. Rather, in challenge to the stereotype of the poor, exploited factory worker, female garment workers are often active, spirited and brave, fighting in their everyday life for their rights and demands to be recognised. For many, the significant growth of women employed in the garment industry has supported the transition of Bangladesh from a low- to middle-income country. Moreover, female workers continue to actively challenge systems of constraint that provide limited social protection within their factories of employment.
To serve as an example of the hope that can emerge through everyday forms of activism, Sadeka Begum shared her story and has become an inspiration to many in the industry (Reuters, 2020). Five years ago, Sadeka was the main income provider for her family in Bangladesh as she regularly worked 12-hour shifts within her garment factory. However, today, through pursuing a new university programme that seeks to inspire female workers to become future leaders, Sadeka is interning with the United Nations Children’s Fund. Through this, she is launching a project to make improvements to the lives of children of Bangladeshi textile workers through increasing affordable access to education. Sadeka reaffirmed that “I am an example of how education can change a person”.
By sharing stories like Daliya and Sadeka’s on an international platform, Justice in Fashion builds empathy and inspires hope for female garment workers in low-income countries. Whilst we have been increasingly distanced as consumers from those who make our clothes, Justice in Fashion regularly compile stories that highlight the struggles and spirit of garment workers. To read more stories like these, follow this link to our Voices Platform. Through making visible the human faces that are often invisible in the building of our wardrobe, storytelling can support societies worldwide to engage with the voices of women who strive to collectively realise their rights and redefine life in garment factories. In this way, sharing stories can empower women as they continue to actively make change. These stories inspire hope.
Kelly, A. (2020) ‘These women aren’t victims’: director turns the spotlight on garment workers. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/04/these-women-arent-victims-director-turns-the-spotlight-on-garment-workers (Accessed: 8 January 2021).
Reuters (2020) Bangladesh university turning women garment workers into leaders. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2020/8/1/bangladesh-university-turning-women-garment-workers-into-leaders (Accessed: 8 January 2021).