By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2019 – Nearly seven years ago, garment workers in Bangladesh were victims of one of the gravest man-made disasters in history — a factory collapse that left more than 1,100 workers dead, and rendered thousands with injuries — in many cases lifelong ones.
For many of the workers from Rana Plaza, the trauma remains real even to this day.
Bangladesh relies heavily on its garment industry for its rising status in the global economy, with textile being its biggest export revenue. Yet its garment workers remain often poorly treated, and continue working in unsafe conditions for minimum pay. Many survivors of Rana Plaza are still reeling from the physical and mental health trauma they suffered in the incident and the aftermath. According to ActionAid, a locally-based NGO, a large number of workers say they can’t return to work owing to their physical and mental health conditions.
But mental health concerns for Bangladeshi garment workers — especially females — has always been of concern, even before the collapse. 2017 research shows that female garment workers, often driven to the workforce owing to their financial status, have thoughts of suicide and suffer from “stress, anxiety, restlessness” because of their long hours at work while being away from their family, especially their children.
A recent initiative might change that. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exports Association (BGMEA) recently launched the “first ever” mental health initiative in the country for the workers. The project recently held a session with workers of one factory, and will be piloted across 50 factories. It’s working with Moner Bondhu, a mental health service provider in Bangladesh. Tawhida Shiropa, founder and CEO of Moner Bondhu, shared her thoughts with IPS.
Inter Press Service: What is Moner Bondhu’s role in this initiative?
Tawhida Shiropa: Moner Bondhu is providing mental health group counselling to garment factory workers. Our counsellors conduct sessions at the factories to address the emotional well-being of the workers so that they can be more peaceful in their personal and professional lives. We work on mind healing, stress management, empathy, being respectful towards others, how to get relief from fatigue and be more productive at the workplace and also on how to be happy at work and in their family life. Our sessions include breathing exercises, stress relief exercises and mindfulness meditation.
What do you hope will be achieved through this initiative?
Through this initiative we aim to help the workers lead a happier and peaceful life so that they can achieve a better work-life balance, be more productive at work while playing a more involved role in their families. In this way they can contribute more to their and as a result the economy of the country will advance.
How do you believe mental health of RMG workers is related to their livelihood, if at all?
We believe mental health is related to everyone’s livelihood. By taking care of their mental health, workers will become more resilient to all the challenges of life. At work, they can be more mindful of their co-workers and together they can create a more harmonious work environment.
What kind of response did you get from your first session?
Our first session was very lively and exciting for all participants. The event was a huge success. All the workers and the factory administration said that they felt very relaxed and calm after the session, especially after the exercises and meditation. They also said that they have never had a session like ours. Many of them came up to our counsellors to thank them personally. They also asked how to stay in touch with us and we share our contact details with them, so that they can access our help in future if they need to.
What’s ahead for the initiative?
We see this initiative as a milestone for mental healthcare. Before now, there was no big scale initiative for mental healthcare of factory workers, so BGMEA’s concern for their workers is highly admirable as they are concerned for the overall well-being of the workers.