Law as a site of resistance : recourse to the law by 'garments women' in Bangladesh.
Traditionally Bangladeshi women were not expected to work outside their homes,
except in cases of dire necessity. The post independence period, since 1971, saw some
major demographic changes, including the greater participation of women in various
types of waged work. However, a more recent stage in this development has led to
large numbers of women being drawn into the garments industry over the last decade. ,
In many ways the advent of the 'garments women represents a change in the traditional
image of the Bangladeshi women.
This thesis explores legal and social aspects of the lives of women in the garments
industry in Bangladesh. A central theme is the possibilities for the use of law by women
workers in the garments industry to protect their own interests. The legal research,
therefore, examines the relevant law pertaining to industrial workers and their working
conditions, and empirically investigates its application with respect to garments
workers. The ideology relating to women in Bangladesh represented them as mute and .
helpless victims. As a consequence it has been assumed that the legal system is beyond
their reach. However, this investigation was predicated upon the idea of women's own
agency. It is argued that, despite the constraints faced by women in every facet of their
lives, they are able to act in their own interest and assert their rights on the basis of
their own notions of fairness and justice.
It was necessary, therefore, to listen to women's voices and acknowledge their own
articulation of rights and resistance to masculine hegemony, both at work and in their
homes. This was made possible by in-depth interviewing of garments workers. A decentred
view of law helped to evaluate the ways in which women perceive their
problems at work and make claims to fair treatment. The findings of the study led to a
subversion of the myth of helpless Bangladeshi women, by presenting the diverse ways
in which women in the garments industry resist socio-economic pressures.
Data from in-depth interviews with women workers, lawyers, factory inspectors and
legal claimants, and a quantitative analysis of Labour Court records, were all mutually
reinforcing. They confirmed that women workers in the garments industry are using
the law to resist workplace oppression. At the same time the particular litigation
process pursued by the lawyers is unconventional in that it is used as a pressure
mechanism against erring employers. The majority of the cases are settled outside the
courtroom so that the women workers avoid the potential problems of a contested
hearing. The lawyers apply their creativity in order to achieve maximum benefits for
the workers. Some women, however, prefer to use the court as a platform to confront
their employers. It is argued that .women are benefiting from these legal strategies both -
materially and in other ways, not least in terms of enhanced self-esteem. These
findings, which are contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy, open up the study of women
workers and law in Bangladesh. Finally, the thesis suggests a number of seemingly
small legal and administrative reforms which could improve the lives of women
workers in the garments industry.