Inspiring younger women to #beboldforchange was the charge given to a number of us at an International Women’s Day event in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Challenging cultural norms that disallow women a voice in family, educational and professional arenas were well received alongside raising awareness about survivors of sex-trafficking and my own topic, our part in creating real opportunities for vulnerable women en masse to support themselves.
For all the challenges both women and men face in this land the quality that inspires me most is resilience. It pulses in a Bangladeshi’s veins, especially among the rural and urban poor … indeed their survival depends on it. However to harness this determination and make it count in a more tangible way opportunities are needed on a huge scale. And like most big dreams, they’re built one brick at a time.
Before you start STOP!
Reflection on the journey in any field is key – the artisan sector creating fair trade work for millions of women and men globally is no exception. Sadly the review is not good. Back in 1989 when I first moved to Bangladesh about a million hand weavers here sold 65% of their production to the local market. Now, just 30 years later, there are less than a third of that selling less than 25% of their goods nationally. And that’s in just one craft sector!
What has happened? & Why?
Obviously the decline of any industry has myriad factors. For this brief review using handloom as the example, in the Top Ten influences I’ll name India and China. Why? The lure of Indian fashion and cheap Chinese fabrics are a temptation hard to resist … in fact honestly, there’s actually no temptation, no sense of even making a choice – why wouldn’t you choose what the celebrities wear and make it as cheaply as possible?
Why not? Because when we decide we are #beboldforchange women we recognise that change has to start with us and frankly, that is uncomfortable. That’s more than a click-and-share* response on social media. Once I understand how my choice influences the livelihoods of women I’ll never meet, how my voice influences the choices of women I meet every day, then I can’t go back. I cannot un-understand.
The artisan sector in Bangladesh is on the decline but I for one believe we’re on the verge of being able to stem that and even, audaciously, to turn it around! Imagine what that would do for the millions of skilled women and men in Bangladesh currently without work.
In this nation where climate change, compliance issues and unemployment are very present concerns I believe fair trade, hand made production of all we use and wear has the potential to challenge these realities head on, creating socioeconomic and environmental impact on an unprecedented scale. It’s not just buying something handmade because it’s beautiful, or fair trade because it helps, it’s scaling things up so we can purchase sustainable everyday goods at realistic prices.
But how is that even feasible?
Enter #sustainability – the word that’s already, ironically, launched products by the thousands! No matter our thoughts on the word itself, we understand this is not a fashionable trend. The sustainability movement has momentum because it meets the need of our time, not simply the ‘want’ of a moment. Its growing number of adherents are creating a very real opportunity for change on a grand scale. As a result I’m not proposing sustainable products so much as a sustainable production system.
I’m not naive enough to think the carbon-guzzling, pollution-vomiting factories ushered in by The Industrial Revolution will disappear. However, I do believe fair trade, carbon-free (aka handmade) production, specifically using local materials and supplying both local and export markets, can fuel The Manual Revolution – an alternative mass production system that meets our daily needs whilst also meeting the needs of our planet that provides the materials and the people who make them useful.
And me – what can I do?
Quite simply start creating demand for fair trade, carbon-free goods by buying them. Especially those goods for everyday use: clothes, kitchen textiles, home linens, ceramics, storage and more. Start raising awareness by talking about #TheManualRevolution and even with ethically sourced raw materials make your own eco-friendly alternatives. And … what else? Please share some of your go-to sustainable switches – the simple ones that keep this movement moving.
*I really won’t mind even if all you do is actually click-and-share this article … at least as a start 😉
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Founder & Creative Director