Women's empowerment

Investing to empower: Shalimar's journey from victim to champion

Shalimar overcame poverty, gender discrimination, and violence to become a line supervisor at EchoTex Ltd. through the GEAR initiative. Her journey from a factory helper to a leadership role and activist against gender-based violence exemplifies empowerment and the positive impact of investing in women's development.

Feature | 10 December 2023
Shalimar becomes a line supervisor at EchoTex Ltd. through the GEAR initiative. © ILO
In the industrial Gazipur district of Bangladesh, amidst the ceaseless hum of garment factories, lives Shalimar whose life’s tapestry is woven with threads of resilience. She was born into a poor family in the Gaibandha district and her mother's death, and family financial constraints determined her life's path.

"I had to grow up quickly, with my mother gone and poverty at the doorstep. Education was my escape, my dream," she reminisces.

Love provided a sanctuary for Shalimar amid struggles. Against the tide of familial disapproval, she married the man of her choice, which led them to the complexities of life in Dhaka. The city's embrace was cold; jobs were scarce, and the couple struggled. Shalimar's determination saw her secure a job as a factory helper with a salary of BDT 5700 that barely kept them afloat.

The shadows of gender discrimination and violence marred her journey at her first job. "They doubted my abilities because I am a woman, tried to hinder my growth, and even my pay was compromised due to gender bias," Shalimar reveals. "My colleagues in the factory sometimes touched me, which made me feel terrible. Some of them even asked me out".

A turning point came when Shalimar joined EchoTex Ltd., a factory with zero tolerance for gender-based violence. This year, Shalimar and nine other women with potential for leadership took part in the transformative Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) initiative by the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation’s Better Work Programme. They were equipped with soft skills such as confidence, emotional intelligence, and effective communication, and technical skills encompassing production processes.

The GEAR initiative empowers women through skill development, fosters career advancement, and embeds gender equality in the RMG supply chain.

"GEAR didn't just teach me skills; it taught me my value," Shalimar asserts.

Shalimar now manages over 40 people in the factory as a line supervisor, guiding production and quality. Her salary has more than doubled.

She has turned her ordeal into activism, championing the cause against gender-based violence. "Now, I stand not as a victim but as a symbol of defiance against violence," she declares.

Her story is a beacon of hope during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, reflecting this year's theme: Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls. "When you invest in women, you invest in a future where violence is not an accepted norm," Shalimar states.

EchoTex Ltd.'s HR Director, Shafayet Karim Chowdhury, agrees highlighting that the company prioritizes a workplace free from gender-based violence and credits the GEAR initiative for significantly contributing to this.

The GEAR initiative has significantly empowered women in Bangladesh's RMG sector. Since 2016, it has trained 799 female workers, 528 of whom have been promoted to supervisory roles. An Oxford University impact assessment showed a five percent increase in line efficiency and a rise in women in management roles. Female supervisors saw an average 39 per cent wage increase.

"The RMG sector, employing over 4.2 million people, is a key economic pillar, contributing nearly 11 per cent to the GDP. We see the GEAR as a great investment for advocating gender equality, increasing productivity, and empowering women to embrace leadership roles," says Mohamad Anis Agung Nugroho, Programme Manager, Better Work Bangladesh.