Social Protection for female tea garden workers and their families in the Sylhet Division

The UN Joint Programme is implementing several initiatives focused solely on women tea garden workers and their families to enhance their social protection.

“The existing system should be changed to improve our living and working conditions”, said Ms. Srimoti Bauri, Vice Chair of valley Committee, Bangladesh Cha Shramik Union, Moulvibazar.

Ms. Srimoti Bauri works in the tea gardens located in Barolekha, Kulaura and Juri Upazilas of Moulvibazar district. Ms. Bauri has not only committed to remaining a woman tea garden worker but paved her way to becoming one of the three women Vice-Chairmen of the Cha Sramik Union (Tea Garden Workers’ Union) valley committees. She is the voice for hundreds of women working in the tea gardens, where she strives to promote women empowerment within the marginalized women tea garden workers’ community and establish women’s rights in the tea gardens of Moulvibazar district in Sylhet.

Ms. Bauri has been working in the tea gardens since 2016. She replaced her mother-in-law and followed the footsteps of her ancestors who also lived as tea garden workers for generations.

Ms. Bauri lives in Borolekha Upazila with her husband, her daughter and son. In 2006, when Ms. Bauri was in ninth grade, she was married off to her husband Bokul Bauri, who is a tea garden worker by profession; he also works part time as a hospital-dresser in Pathariya tea-garden hospital. Their daughter Payel Bauri (12) and Palash Bauri (10) study at a local school, located 3.5 kilometers away from their home. Ms. Bauri wants her children to pursue their education and break the chain of remaining as tea garden workers for generations.

Ms. Bauri said that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hardships of the tea garden workers, where the employers encouraged them to continue to work during the lockdown, and they have delayed the worker’s wages blaming a fall in tea sales due to the pandemic.

Ms. Bauri stated that “we are lucky the rate of Covid-19 has been exceptionally low in the tea gardens cause the only two treatments which are available in the handful of hospitals in the tea-gardens is a paracetamol and an orsaline for dysentery. Women’s reproductive health is neglected, and midwives are scarce in our hospitals, which are also few in number.”

She also shared that tea garden owners pay the women workers less than men, stating that women cannot lift heavy weights or perform under stress. The reality is that women including Ms. Bauri continue to perform the exact same tasks as men with the same productive capacity for half the wage.

Ms. Bauri is finally seeing glimpse of hope for women tea garden workers, with the joint programme, “enhancing social protection for female tea garden workers and their families in Sylhet Division, Bangladesh”. Ms. Bauri reiterated that “I am forever grateful to this programme for providing me the opportunity to speak on behalf of our fellow left behind women tea garden workers and share their struggles. I never thought I could speak up for our rights and contribute to the empowerment of women tea garden workers like me. This gives us courage and strength to fight for our rights and change this system for the better.”

Caption: Female tea workers are going to drop the collected leaves at factory. Tea leaf pickers get 120 Taka ($1.5 USD) daily wages to collect 24 KG leaves.  Photo: ILO
Caption: Female tea workers are going to drop the collected leaves at factory. Tea leaf pickers get 120 Taka ($1.5 USD) daily wages to collect 24 KG leaves.

Now that UN Women as a part of UN Joint Programme is implementing the very first programme focused solely on women tea garden workers and their families. Ms. Bauri is hopeful that women like her will be able to break the vicious cycle of deprivation and exploitation. She feels that through this initiative, women tea garden workers and their families can finally achieve improved access to better education, skills and awareness to raise their voices against discrimination and injustice in the tea gardens. 

Story was originally published on Joint SDG Fund.

UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme