For the last 2 months I have been engaged in field work for my Masters thesis. I have spent several days in the Bhola slum in Dhaka to learn about the migration experiences of the people living here, the majority of them having lost their land to the river.
Bangladesh is a country of human mobility where migration is highly embedded in traditional livelihood strategies. This cultural practice can be a positive adaptation strategy in response to increasing climatic challenges. In rural areas, the head of household tends to migrate for a few months each year to find alternative livelihood options during periods when agriculture-based opportunities are scarce. During these months, they may migrate to other rural areas to work as day laborers at farms, or they may travel to urban centers to work as rickshaw pullers or salesmen.
Women are also migrating. After the establishment of the garment factories in the 1980s, women joined the work force in great numbers. Although exact figures are lacking, some findings suggest that about 90% of the women working in Dhaka-based garment factories are migrants. Many join the factories from the age of 14, and continue their work after marriage and childbirth.
Because work in the garment sector is perceived as providing a better income and safer work environment than other jobs typically undertaken by women, they are more culturally accepted by society than other occupations available to women. Hence, garment jobs can provide opportunities for women to achieve more stable livelihoods, which may in turn contribute to the socio-economic development of Bangladesh as a whole. This is also why it is important that the workers’ rights and security within the garment sector are strengthened.
Because women can contribute as breadwinners, they can also contribute to new income strategies when livelihoods are threatened by climate change. This will need to be addressed in future environmental policies and adaptation strategies.