When selecting films for this year's festival, the film that had the most buzz from the women around us was Rubaiyat Hossain's Made in Bangladesh. We knew we had to bring this film, which examines the struggle for workers rights and women's rights in a garment industry where 80% of the workers are young women, to Wales.
"The backbone of Bangladesh’s economy is carried by young women," says Rubaiyat, who spent 3 years researching and meeting factory workers before beginning on the script. "I finally came across this woman named Daliya, who was a union leader. I felt she was courageous, strong, and articulate. She had been treated so badly, being in an abusive marriage, but she was longing for dignity. The women factory workers are very young, they’re mainly between 18 to 30. It is hard to find older factory workers as they develop back and shoulders problems, as a result of sitting on hard benches, bent over the sewing machines ten hours a day, six days a week for a hundred euros a month in the best case. But what I found fascinating is that, even with very little pay, difficult conditions at work, struggles against patriarchy at home, these women are empowered. Because one hundred years ago in Bangladesh, women could not even work, they had to live in seclusion. Today, they are working, they are making a living for themselves and their families, and they are fighting within the factory and at home for their rights."
The film is focussed around Shimu a 23 year old woman working in a clothing factory in Dhaka. Faced with difficult conditions at work, she decides to start a union with her co-workers: "The women factory workers have this young spirit that I tried to portray in the film. They have a real sense of camaraderie working together. It is a positive thing. In gender studies, we always say that as long as a woman is resisting and fighting, she will get somewhere. Generations before us had fought for education and voting rights for women, that is why we are here today: “we stand where we stand, because we stand on the shoulders of women who came before us" In my country, there is a long history of women’s rights organisations, trying to improve the conditions of women. Women are getting the knowledge of the unions through these human rights organizations. They are taught about the law."
The film should also raise our collective consciousness about cheap fashion: "The entire world should listen to stories like Shimu’s. As a consumer, you have to take your responsibilities: if you buy a pair of jeans for 20$, you must know someone had to work underpaid for these. But if you say I won’t buy any more clothes of this brand because I know they underpay their workers, that is exactly what the workers do NOT want. It is not a solution." says Rubaiyat.
Made in Bangladesh is the opening film of the 2020 WOW Film Festival at The Riverfront, Newport on March 7th in celebration of International Women's Day, before screening at The Waterfront Museum, Swansea, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Pontio, Bangor.
It has drawn the attention of women's support organisations WEN Wales, TUC Cymru, Women Connect First, the Swansea Refugee and Asylum Seeker's Women's Group, and BAWSO, who are collaborating with WOW to make the screenings accessible to women across Wales.