Strengthening Democracy in Bangladesh through Women’s Empowerment in Trade Unions

June 30, 2015
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Lily Gomes, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

Tim Ryan, Solidarity Center

moderated by

Zerxes Spencer, International Forum for Democratic Studies

Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

About the Event

The horrors of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire and the Rana Plaza factory collapse shocked the world into noticing Bangladesh’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry and the 4 million Bangladeshis who earn their livelihood in RMG factories. A plethora of well-intentioned initiatives arose in response to these tragedies, from heightened safety standards to international coalitions of concerned clothing brands. Yet such efforts can only be part of the solution: without full awareness of their rights and strong, responsive representation to defend them, factory workers are left without effective tools for self-determination. For a workforce that is more than 85 percent female, this requires overcoming social and industrial pressures to build gender-inclusive trade unions. In her presentation, Lily Gomes analyzed the situation of workers in Bangladesh’s RMG sector, especially in the years following Rana Plaza, with a particular focus on women in the workforce. She offered recommendations for local and international actors to promote the sector’s sustainable development through democracy and the empowerment of women workers. Her presentation was followed by comments by Tim Ryan.

About the Speakers

Ms. Lily Gomes is senior program officer with the Solidarity Center in Bangladesh, where she supports workers, trade unions, and federations in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), the Ready-Made Garment Industry, and the Shrimp and Fish Processing Industry (SFP). As senior program officer, she conducts trainings on gender equality, women’s leadership, fire safety, and trade union management, and produces publications on workers’ rights. Along with other Solidarity Center staff, she assisted garment workers in forming the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, a workers’ organization that operates under female leadership; she also has assisted shrimp workers in forming unions in SFP industries in southwestern Bangladesh. Ms. Gomes also serves as coordinator of the Solidarity Center’s Justice Campaign for the Victims of the Saver Tragedy. In 2009, she earned a doctorate in sociology from Jadavpur University in India, where she focused on the impact of employment and earning opportunities on female workers in Bangladesh’s RMG sector. During her fellowship, Ms. Gomes is developing a gender policy guideline for advancing women’s leadership among trade unions within Bangladesh’s RMG industry.

Tim Ryan is Asia regional program director at the Solidarity Center.