Emboldened by the experience of the glorious war for national sovereignty and independence against a prolonged colonial rule and occupation, and having been actively involved in student-worker-cultural and women’s movements in view of democratising the society against autocratic rule, a number of women founded Karmojibi Nari in May 1991. Karmojibi Nari was founded with the aim of initiating a new and timely movement to create a society free of repression, persecution or discrimination with the hope of materialising the ideals of our glorious independence war and based on the changed socio-economic and political context in the wake of the fall of an autocratic regime. The main actors, who also embodied the spiritual force of this new and timely movement, are none but the women workers of Bangladesh.
Karmojibi Nari is not a typical women’s organisation, as the name suggests; it is also not an outdated workers’ organisation. It is an organisation specifically for women, which besides striving for women workers’ welfare is dedicated to ensuring the right, respect and authority of women as well as the workers and labourers. It is the first and so far the only organisation with such goals. Through its continuous struggle to ensure increasing presence of women workers in workers’ and women’s movements Karmojibi Nari is moving forward successfully. The organisation has, to a certain extent, created new women leadership, along with freeing the workers’ movement from the grip of upper-classes and elites and the women’s movement from the curses of patriarchy.
The newly-found organisation’s first workplace was in Tongi—an area devastated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s so-called supervision. Directed towards reorganising the workers’ movements, the main aims of its activities were to create awareness among the women workers and creating women leadership in trade unions and the CBAs (collective bargaining agents). It is mentionable that during those days, even though women used to retain their memberships by paying regular fees, they were not allowed to lead an association or to participate in CBA elections. From these experiences, the working women raised the demands that besides the central committees, there should be a women’s committee in every trade union and women’s representative in each central committee.
From 1994 to 1997, even though the industrial units of Tongi were being laid off one after another due to the effect of structural adjustment programmes initiated in the ‘80s, these organisers joined private and non-formal sectors and instead of losing hope started organising the women workers with renewed vigour. From 1996, besides organising the female workers of the readymade garments sector, Karmojibi Nari started uniting other women workers of different institutional and non-institutional sector in their factories as well as in their respective localities.
Beyond the boundaries of Tongi industrial area, Karmojibi Nari’s offices were set up in other factories and localities of the capital city Dhaka. Besides finding ways to fight various prevailing problems of women workers in their factories and at their localities and laying the foundation of leading these movements with their cumulative strength. There was added stress on reforming related laws and regulations at the national level, which has serious impact upon the women workers. From 2003, a serious initiative was taken to amend the prevailing labour law.
After initiating the demand of labour law amendment, from 2005 began the difficult task of drafting labour laws for the agriculture workers — the largest section of non-formal workers — at the district level. It is mentionable that in our country, only the nationalised and institutionalised labourers fall under the purview of the existing labour laws, but apart from them there are countless numbers of urban and rural labourers for whom there are no specific labour laws or regulations. Another main reason for taking up the initiative was to create leadership among the unorganised rural women workers.
It is especially noteworthy that Karmojibi Nari instead of confining itself to the task of drafting laws for the farmers intends to expand its boundaries and include the rural labourers within its scope of work.
In the labour sector, members organised under the flag of Karmojibi Nari started playing significant roles in furthering women’s movement in Bangladesh during the 1995 mass upsurge in Dinajpur. A teenaged domestic help Yasmin, while returning home from work, was murdered after being gang raped by a group of police officers that year on August 24 in Dinajpur, a northern district town in Bangladesh. The administration took an opposite stance against the mass upsurge that broke out as a protest against this heinous act. Seven people were shot dead leaving many more injured. The women workers of Karmojibi Nari were directly involved in this movement at the national level. Karmojibi Nari took to the streets and played an active role in the rape case of Tania, a five-year old, who was violated in the police control room the Chief Metropolitan Magistrates court in Dhaka.
Karmojibi Nari also played a very significant role in the activities carried out to ensure political empowerment of women through increasing reserved seats for women in the parliament and arranging for direct election for those increased seats as well as demanding the national women’s development act 1997 to be reinstated and declaring the undemocratically amended national women’s development act 2004 void. They also took a strong position against political oppression of women. Besides, from 2005 they stressed upon ensuring strong presence of women workers and their visibility in fighting those opposed of women’s liberty movement — religious fundamentalism and armed extremism.
From ensuring women workers’ rights in factories and their safety to working on women and different workers’ interest related issues, members of Karmojibi Nari have led numerous campaigns ranging from price hike of necessities to many other issues relating to mass interest; among which are fertiliser and electricity scarcity, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s unnecessary interference and supervision.
Karmojibi Nari has realised that many problems of factories and localities are co-related to national laws and policies, similarly many national rules are influenced, directed and predetermined by the laws and policies of various international organisations and groups. Even though a few organisations have played a very significant role in favour of women and workers, there are many other organisations that are playing a continual and harmful role regarding national industry and national economy as well as creating vacancy and ensuring workers’ rights. This is why from 2005 Karmojibi Nari — gaining experience from the 1993 Beijing and ILO (International Labour Organization) convention — started conducting their activities on the hand on discriminatory international business rules and on the other, social obligation of different corporations.
In 1991 this organisation started functioning from a very small scale. Since 2006, it has transformed into a matured organisation in its actions and framework and in its expansion of the realm of work and also in manpower. Karmojibi Nari is moving forward aiming to spread its boundaries and activities throughout the whole country.
As a non-political and politically conscious, and non-communal democratic minded non-governmental development organisation, Karmojibi Nari is registered with the Republic of Bangladesh Government’s NGO Affairs Bureau and Ministry of Women and Children’s Affair.