A social initiative to restore GFs image after Rana Plaza

Salina Akter
Wednesday, May 16th, 2018


Ella at Beximco factory medical (image - collected)

 

“We are providing trainings the garment workers to make their own sanitary napkins reusing the scraps. Our women are having nimble fingers and they are easily and efficiently making the sanitary napkins using the machines they are used to operate at the garment factories,” says Rotarian Mamunur while talking as a guest speaker at noted U.S. Rotary clubs of Florida, Atlanta, Texas, Montana, Michigan and Massachusetts to share his project with U.S. Rotary clubs and business people about the good practice of Bangladesh garments factories after Rana Plaza incidents. Mamunur expressed his gratitude to the garments owners for giving him access to the factories.

 

“I was left out the school while I was at class six as I couldn’t appear at final exam because of being sick”, Rozina is a helper at small garment factory at Mirpur says, “We came in Dhaka from Jamalpur and joined at the garment factory and now we are making our own sanitary pads”. Hasan Shahrior, head of compliance and HRD of Beximco textile says, “Sanitary pad is no longer the luxurious items for our factory workers as they are making their own pads”. He also mentioned that their workers are now taking away the surplus pads for their family members. Managing the menstrual hygiene an unrecognized social and public health problems is serious taboo to discuss in public. Mamunur Rahman, a Humphrey Fellow of U.S. State Department, working with an innovative idea of solving a critical problem of women and that of the garment sector to restore the image of the country. He worked at D-Lab of MIT to develop his low-cost napkin from waste, which was showcased at MIT annual exhibition last year. During this Fulbright exchange programs, Mamunur presented his idea at leading U.S. universities including Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, Emory, UC Davis, University of Montana and many more on  ‘how Ella pad could solve the problem of poor women of Bangladesh’, where sanitary napkin is regarded as a luxurious items. Study shows only 15% women have access to sanitary napkin in Bangladesh. The garment sector, supporting global brands, is losing 200 million days each year as female labour remain absent during the heavy flow days. Mamunur is trained by UNITAR on sustainable consumption and production and influenced to take project on low-cost sanitary napkin. Earlier, he did his Master in gender and development from Institute of Development Studies of the University of Sussex, UK. He grew up at a remote part of the country having no electricity let alone the running water. He was honest to confess that they had to wait for the sun set for their open defecation. Situation for women of his community was beggar description as many of them faced sexual harassment as miscreants used to wait inside the bushes to take chance. Narrating his study findings, he conducted with support of UNFPA at 15 garments factories, he mentioned that access to toilet for the garment workers is horrible let alone that of sanitary napkin. Explaining the waste management of the factories and sustainability practices point of view, Mamunur mentions, “Ella model is an innovative solution of waste management which is not only sustainable itself and enhancing the well-being and productivity of workers but also playing catalytic role in achieving at least 11 out of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) – set by the United Nations”

 

Rotarian Mamunur met President Jimmy Carter last year in Atlanta and narrated his initiative of empowering garment workers. Mamunur’s Ella pad project is now well recognized by the global think-tanks. The British Council UK, recently selected Ella Mamunur’s initiative as one of the best social initiatives at its global competition. Last year, D-Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) exhibited Ella pad project at Spring Students Showcase 2017 and got appreciation from MIT and Harvard innovators community. Mamunur has been working with Profs. Sriram Narayanan and Matt Syal at Michigan State University to further the Ella Pad initiative within factories by making the factory owners take initiative to provide the pads to employees working in the factories free of charge, and to scale the initiative to create the supply chain. In this connection, Professor Sriram Narayanan of Michigan State University, USA, recently visited Bangladesh to see Ella pad operations in Bangladesh garment factories. During his presentation at the American Cultural Center, Prof Narayanan emphasized the uniqueness of the factory-based approach that Ella pad is working on to scale the initiative and explained the research plan that Ella pad along with Michigan State University is considering to demonstrate the efficacy of factory involvement and make factory operations more people-centric. Prof Narayanan also visited leading garment factories including DBL, Beximco industrial park, Grameen textile park, Pakiza Momtex, and a small garment facility at Mirpur area of the city to discuss the project with these factories that were interested in piloting the idea. In these factories, Dr Narayanan met with the leadership of these firms including Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to share the possibilities of the Ella pad expansion across the garment factories to improve the health and wellbeing of the female workers.

 

Mamunur shared his dream that today’s Ella producing workers will shortly emerge as independent entrepreneurs in coming days. Workers will set up own enterprise coming out of the factories, he explained. Because of introducing machines at the factories women are losing their jobs. Bangladesh is going to face a jobless growth like other textile producing countries. “Our low-skill female workers will start to return back to the villages having no work at the cities”, Mamunur mentions firmly. To manage the upcoming crisis, Ella project now working to prepare a venture capital type of a financial product so that jobless workers can start new lives setting up their own enterprises. They will do the green business through reusing the scraps of garment factories to make the low-cost sanitary napkins and other hygiene products for the commercial market. The products will be sold both at local and international markets, Mamunur explained further. Women will enjoy more freedom and become more empowered, he noted.

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