International Women’s Day’s roots extend back to 1909 when women garment workers in the United States went on strike protesting terrible working conditions, sexual harassment and low pay.  Their voices helped to establish 8 March as a day to mark women’s struggle over the years to secure justice and equality for themselves and their children.

Many of the projects TRAID funds aim to support, empower, benefit and celebrate the women making our clothes.  From women cotton farmers in Benin who are increasing female participation in organic cotton production to mothers in Sri Lanka creating sustainable textiles using natural dyes, here are some of the ways our funding improves the lives and incomes of women who make up the vast majority of the global garment making workforce.

Meet Delphine Bodjrenou, OBEPAB

Delphine Bodjrenou, OBEPAB,Benin

Delphine works with TRAID’s partner OBEPAB to increase the number of women cotton farmers in Benin growing organically.  Dismantling the obstacles that prevent women’s participation has been the focus of her work. Her work has been incredibly successful with this project seeing women making up around 40% of farmers compared to around 10% in African cotton farming in general.

She says, “To increase women’s participation we use many dynamic strategies….encouraging women to take the floor to express their views, making sure that everyone has an equal chance to speak and run women only training sessions. We also provide a lot of support for women to develop their incomes through crop diversification, manufacturing organic shea butter and supporting off-season production.”

Why is it so important? She says “We know that organic cotton production has proved to be an opportunity for women. It allows women to do something on an equal footing as men and to have their own income.” When women grow conventionally (using pesticides) they have to rely on their husbands or male relatives to access the inputs they need, and typically women’s voices are not heard in conventional farmer organisations. Organic farming liberates women from this dependency as they can use free local resources to generate their own cotton income. Delphine is a well known figure at village meetings and workshops actively encouraging women to participate and lead field demonstrations. Now, at least 40% of organic cotton farmers in the programme are women.

Meet the women of AMMA, Sri Lanka

Priyadarshani with fabric

AMMA is an innovative women-led business in Sri Lanka. It’s all women team create stunning sustainable textiles using natural dyes. They are committed to seeing local women take leadership and responsibility within their communities, families and workplace. Many of the women employed have experienced harassment in previous workplaces and AMMA provides them with the safety of being surrounded by a cross generational team of women to learn from and find support. Founder Josie George says, “Empowerment reveals itself as small changes over time. Such as when Koglivani asked her husband to collect their child during his lunch break instead of her travelling further to do it. Or Priyadarshani, who had never worked before joining AMMA and is now the main earner with the most stable job in her household. Or, Meena, embracing that she is a role model to the community and using her new knowledge in natural dyeing to teach others.”

“Being a manager at a women-led business is a great privilege for me, I have a great time with people from different backgrounds and it is a great responsibility to satisfy the customers and employees needs.” (Meena, sustainable textile worker, AMMA)

Tea and conversation with the AMMA team.

“Amma is the best company I have ever worked for and it values me as a woman. I went to a few counselling sessions when I was pregnant, but Amma’s life skills lessons taught me new strategies to control my stress and anxiety positively. I am so glad to work here and recently I got electricity to my house using the wage of Amma.” (Rosie, sustainable textile worker, AMMA)

Why birth certificates matter

Since 2010, TRAID funding has established and sustained four day care centres for the children of garment working mothers – many single parents –  in Dhaka, Bangladesh, one of the world’s main textile production hubs. Here, up to 200 garment working mothers no longer have to leave their children alone while they work, but bring them to the centres to receive quality care, education and good food. The centre also ensures that these children get birth certificates without which they cannot access state health and education. For girls in particular, the birth certificates provide documentation of proof of age, helping to prevent under-age marriage which remains a significant problem for girls in Bangladesh.

Find out more about these and other TRAID funded projects here.

Read more about the issues women face in the fashion industry here.