Lifestyle

Female empowerment: Garment workers become college graduates

Pathways for Promise help fund the cost of going to university

Many of us will have heard of the appalling conditions that garment workers must endure in order to earn a tiny wage from long hours in factories.

Notably, a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh made global headlines in 2003 after collapsing and killing more than 1,100 people, while UK brand Boohoo also fell under the microscope last year for treating workers like ‘modern day slaves’ and paying them as little as £3.50 an hour – far below the minimum wage of £8.72.

Now, it’s no longer a case of out of sight out of mind, as one organisation is offering these workers a lifeline with a college education to help improve their job prospects.

[Credit: Asian University for Women]

The brilliant brains at Pathways for Promise have created a project that funds not only the cost of going to university, but also the preparation coursework required before enrolling.

In particular, the team are on a mission to help first-generation college students and currently work with young women from 18 countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Many of these young women had previously been destined to a life in the factory so their wages could support low-income families, yet the Pathways for Promise funding pays participants a monthly sum while studying to offset the loss of wages from not working a garment job.

[Credit: Asian University for Women]

Speaking about the initiative, founder of the Asian University for Women, Kamal Ahmad, said he is elated at the cultural shift taking place and why it is so important for female empowerment.

Mr Ahmad said: “The impact they can have on being an example in the community and propelling others to follow suit is much more impressive and persuasive.

“Being the first one has a way of altering the pathways of the family.”

He continued: “Even if this young woman wants to come to this university, the family is dependent on her wages, so they won’t let her go if they don’t have the income.”

[Credit: Asian University for Women]

So far, nearly 500 students have enrolled into higher education on the Pathways for Promise project since it began in 2016, with the first class of 25 graduating last May.

One student, Sabina Yeasmin, says the course has made it possible for her to aspire to create change and educate women and girls on menstrual hygiene.

The 23-year-old, due to graduate next year, plans to start her own line of products one day and make them more affordable in Bangladesh.

Hero-in-the-making Sabina also hopes to make the garment sector “a better place” to work.

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