Global Roundup: Bangladeshi Garment Workers, Indonesian Activists vs Sexual Violence, Voice of Afro-Colombian Identity, Protesting Rising LGBTQ+ Violence in Spain, Turning Plastic into Bricks in Kenya

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Garment employees work at Fakhruddin Textile Mills Limited in Gazipur, Bangladesh, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

The South Asian region employs roughly 4 million workers in the garment industry, but a vast majority of these workers barely earn livable wages. In Bangladesh, more than half the nation’s garment workers are women, but over 90% of supervisor positions are held by men; however, this disproportionate statistic is slowly changing as women in Bangladesh engage in training schemes to become supervisors in the garment industry.

Over the last decade, nonprofit organizations, development groups and factory owners have facilitated a series of training programmes which provide women with skills and knowledge to obtain supervisor positions in garment factories. Stepping into positions of leadership would mean higher-paying jobs for women and more financial security for their families. 

Nurunnahar Begum, a 28-year old in Bangladesh, began working as a seamstress at a clothing factory in Dhaka in 2012. After completing a series of training programmes, she became the supervisor of a team of 30 quality-control workers in 2016. She took a leap of faith and asked factory officials if she could take on a greater position of leadership; her team constantly had new male supervisors due to their poor performance. 

I think it's good if a woman leads the team, because most workers at the sewing lines are women and they will be more open to sharing their problems. For instance, if a woman has stomach pain (period cramps), she may not want to share this with a man and just be absent, which hurts production. In these cases, I tell workers to leave early or take a break, which doesn't hurt our target, - Nurunnahar Begum, supervisor at a clothing factory in Dhaka 

In 2013, there was not a single female supervisor at a garment factory. Today, around one in five sewing lines at the factory are managed by women, which has resulted in a 3% increase in efficiency and an annual benefit of around $1.5 million.  

The Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) Program is a donor-backed initiative which aims to boost garment workers’ skills in 60 factories across Bangladesh and with the provided training, the program has seen a 5% increase in productivity. GEAR hosts a six month program in which women gain confidence, learn technical skills, manage stress and learn how to effectively communicate with colleagues. 

(GEAR) is a program which prepares women for leadership positions that go well beyond the factory where they are trained and also beyond the ready-made garments sector. - Wendy Werner, Country Manager for the International Finance Corporation in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal

Despite prevailing social taboos, women are on the rise in the garment industry. With noticeable benefits from the supervising positions that women have taken on, it is clear that the future of this industry will be led by women. 

Mannequins are placed outside the Senayan legislative compound in Central Jakarta on Dec. 8, 2020 in a lobbying campaign pushing for the passage of the sexual violence eradication bill. - JP

The Indonesian government just released the latest draft of the sexual violence eradication bill, and activists are not happy. They claim that the proposed changes do not adequately protect the rights of victims of sexual violence. 

This bill has been in the making since 2012 when the National Commission on Violence Against Women lobbied lawmakers to pass the legislation. The bill was only taken seriously in 2016, but it has since been met with multiple delays. 

The latest changes to the bill are abhorrent. From changing the name from ‘the sexual violence eradication bill’ to the ‘sexual violence crime bill’, to removing 85 provisions and 2 sections which upheld victims’ rights (including forced marriage, forced prostitution, forced abortion, sexual torture, and sexual slavery), to narrowing the types of sexual violence that can be prosecuted to only sexual harassment; forced contraception; and sexual exploitation, to diminishing rape - this bill is not reflective of the needs of survivors of sexual violence. There are also many vulnerable groups which have been left unacknowledged, such as persons living with disabilities, and there is an absence of regulation on online gender-based violence. 

The absence of specific provisions that protect the rights of people with disabilities who were victims of sexual violence highlights policymakers’ lack of seriousness in protecting every citizen from sexual violence. - the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) 

This battle has been ongoing for 5 years now, and activists continue to speak out and protest against this bill and its lack of protections for survivors of sexual violence. Activists are firm on their stance and will not back down. Sexual violence is an epidemic which has yet to be eradicated worldwide, and it is the duty of governments to enact legislation which upholds the rights of survivors. 

If we do nothing about sexual violence, it will become normalised. We cannot let this happen, the perpetrators need to be brought to justice. - Mariana Amirudin, Komnas Perempuan Commissioner 

Photo courtesy of via BeLatina

In 2010, music trio Chocquibtown rose to international fame after winning a Latin Grammy Award for their song “De Donde Vengo Yo”. An ode to the Afro-Colombian population, Chocquibtown highlighted how the community has mastered resilience, but how they have been victims of discrimination, abandoned by the state, and brutally harmed in armed conflict. Since then, the trio has become the voice of the Afro-Colombian community, speaking to the injustices experienced, as well as Colombia’s refusal to acknowledge and accept the racism which plagues the country.

The members of the group are Gloria “Goyo” Martínez, her brother Miguel “Slow Mike” Martínez, and her husband Carlos “Tostao” Valencia. Each are native to Chocó, a department in Colombia known for its large Afro-Colombian population. The name “Chocquibtown” is an amalgamation of Chocó and its capital city, Quibdo. 

The trio does not only utilize Afro-Colombian experiences and identities in their music, but they also showcase hairstyles, clothing and visual elements that are typical of the region. In one of their songs “Fresa”, Goyo can be seen wearing clothing makeup and long braided extensions that are commonly found in Chocó; she explained that the elements of the song were designed to create a place which could be Nigeria or Colombia. 

The members of Chocquibtown are also large advocates, fighting for racial and social justice. On May 19 last year, a 24-year old Black man, Anderson Arboleda, was beaten for violating quarantine regulations and later passed away on May 22. Only three days before George Floyd’s murder which sparked a movement across the world, Arboleda’s death did not receive any public reaction at all until Goyo posted the case on Twitter. 

In response to Arboleda and Floyd’s murders, Goyo founded the Conciencia Collective. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and over 100 artists, this collective of 35+ activists; lawyers; music industry executives; content creators; and more have raised awareness of social and racial issues in the Latino community. Over the last year, there have been a number of #ConcienciaTalks where important issues about race and social issues have been analyzed, as well as four episodes of Conciencia Cocina where artists have shared their Latin American recipes. 

Chocquibtown’s dedication to racial, cultural and social awareness is not only evident through their music, but also through their activism. As the group continues to prosper, they will continue to advocate for the Afro-Colombian community and demand changes for the community worldwide. 

De Donde Vengo Yo song:

Protesters packed central Madrid to call for better protections against homophobia. (Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images) via Pink News

Over the weekend in Madrid, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against the rise in LGBTQ+ hate crimes. Protesters waved rainbow flags and held signs reading “Touch one of us, touch us all”, or “We are being killed”. 

According to a 2020 report published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 41% of queer Spaniards experienced harassment in just a 12-month time period. In 2021, LGBTQ+ individuals continue to be violently attacked by homophobes. 

At the beginning of September, a gay man in the Malasaña neighborhood was viciously attacked as homophobes inscribed a homophobic slur on his ass. Despite the individual later retracting their statement and claiming the injuries were consensual, Spanish activists and LGBTQ+ members alike were enraged. 

We are here to protect against the continuous homophobic attacks and the constant aggression that happens weekend after weekend. - Gabriel Escribano, protester 

The protest was initially organized by the Colectivo LGBT+ de Madrid (COGAM), one of Spain’s most well-known and most active LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. At the protest, COGAM was joined by dozens of queer and human rights organizations to protest these injustices and demand an end to this violence. 

They keep attacking us. The escalation of violence against LGBT+ people makes us live in fear. - Member of COGAM 


Kenya is home to a massive pollution problem. Despite the nation banning single-use plastics in 2017, pollution is still a large problem in Kenya. In 2019, the US exported over one billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, Kenya being one of the countries on the receiving end. The catastrophe of excessive plastic wastage has had devastating impacts on Kenya. In order to tackle the problem of excessive pollution, Nzambi Matee is turning plastic into bricks in Kenya. 

Her company Gjenge Makers uses plastic waste from commercial facilities which are then transformed into bricks which can stand twice the weight threshold of concrete. The process took about 9 months to develop a single brick, however Matee now has machines which help mass produce the bricks. 

After the waste is sorted to remove rubble and metal, the plastic is baked and then molded into building blocks. Currently, her company makes around 2000 plastic bricks a day. Not only are these bricks seven times stronger than standard bricks, they are also 35% cheaper. 

Currently, Matee’s bricks are used for pathways in small households, but she is hoping to target big construction companies in order to more widely promulgate her sustainable and cost-efficient plastic bricks. 

The more we recycle the plastic, the more we produce affordable housing. The more we create more employment for the youth. - Nzambi Matee


Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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