Providing employment to women at risk and survivors of trafficking in Bangladesh

I’ve long admired Basha’s beautiful one-of-a-kind kantha-stitched products, so I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with them directly. I am delighted to announce the Basha Collection will be launching soon at Shakti.ism, particularly as our first collaboration to empower disadvantaged women outside of India. Basha is a social enterprise based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that works to empower women who are at risk and those who have survived human trafficking.

All about Basha Boutique

In the Bengali language, basha means ‘house’ and asha means ‘hope’. Through dignified work, Basha is building a house of hope for women in Bangladesh. Women gain livelihood skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy and healing environment through Basha. The artisans create a distinctive range of home textiles, jewellery and accessories. The textile products (like the throws featured at Shakti.ism) feature a traditional Bengali technique known as Kantha, the straight, even stitching together of multiple layers of saris. Basha’s hand-crafted jewellery incorporates recycled sari thread and cloth alongside locally sourced brass, copper and silver.

Through dignified work, Basha provides a sustainable livelihood for women at risk and survivors of trafficking.

Basha opened its doors on 1 May 2011. That day fourteen women joined Basha’s Dhaka office ready to begin a new life. In 2017, Basha had grown to include five production sites, employing well over 100 women. While they work, their children are being cared for, educated, and given opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Through our charitable arm, Friends of Basha, we also have a training programme, a home for young girls, and are continuing to develop programmes to help women and children escape exploitation.

Today, driven by the needs of the many thousands of women in Bangladesh who are forced into lives they are deeply ashamed of, Basha passionately continues to create alternative opportunities one job at a time – through sales of our life-giving, one-of-a-kind products.

Basha’s vision is to continue to grow as long as there are women in Bangladesh in need of dignified work. Basha dreams of a day when women are not at risk of exploitation and don’t live in fear. Through dignified work, Basha provides a sustainable livelihood for women at risk and survivors of trafficking. Women gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy, healing environment. Each woman’s story varies, but for each her circumstances have put her at high risk of harm or resulted in her exploitation. We work with employees’ children too, ensuring the cycle of poverty and victimization is broken.

Why Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is the only Muslim country in the world where sex work is legal. There is regulation in place requiring every single sex worker to possess a police-issued certificate stating that she’s there willingly, that she’s over 18, and unable to find other work. Despite this rule, there are thousands of children as young as 10 working in Bangladeshi brothels. The workers may possess certificates, but many of them are false or have been obtained by dubious means, and no one seems to question how the workers wound up in these brothels in the first place. There are also issues with enforcing the laws and convictions are rare at best.

Women and girls end up working in brothels in different ways. Traffickers regularly take advantage of the vulnerability of the the poor and either coerce, entice, lure or sell minors and other gullible persons into prostitution. Forms of trafficking include fake marriages, sale by parents to “uncles” offering jobs, auctions to brothel owners or farmers, and abduction. Traffickers and procurers pose as prospective husbands to impoverished families. They take the girls away and sell them into prostitution. Many ‘brides’ have been collected in this manner and brought as a group to Pakistan where they are handed over to local traffickers.

Thousands of girls in Bangladesh are actually brought to brothels and sold by their husbands, who sell them off without their knowledge or consent. When this happens, the girls are forced into bonded labour, and forced to work to pay off their debts (the price that was paid for them) to the brothel’s madam, by engaging in sex work.

It’s estimated that there are around 20 ‘brothel villages’ scattered across Bangladesh, with up to 10,000 employees split between them. Daulatdia is the largest of these villages and has anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 sex workers; it is one of the largest brothels in the world. Nearly half of the sex workers in Daulatdia are reputed to be underage.

There is a strong stigma against any woman who has worked in the sexual trade, whether it was by choice or not. Even women who have left sex work are typically disowned by their families, including by the brothers, fathers, and uncles who themselves frequent brothels. So for many women who are finally able to leave brothel life behind them, there are little or no opportunities to support themselves.

Through dignified work, Basha provides a sustainable livelihood for women at risk and survivors of trafficking. Women gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a health, healing and supportive environment.

Basha artisans at work
 

The benefits

At Basha, quite a few benefits are included in every product cost. In addition to wages, artisans receive annual benefits, healthcare (they have specialists making regular visits and consultancies as needed), daily education for around an hour on literacy, life skills, health, hygiene, and more. There is on-site childcare for the children of Basha’s artisans, providing support for their education and ensuring that the cycle of poverty and exploitation is broken.

Associates are mentored in various topics including English, health and hygiene, Bangla literacy, leadership, and in all aspects of business and life. A day care ensures children are receiving safe care and education while their mother’s work. School age children are sponsored and supported in their studies.

Basha also runs a nonprofit, called Friends of Basha. Friends of Basha provides additional nutrition to the children, as many of them were malnourished when they came into the community. There is also provision of counselling and psychiatry service for those who are in need. Basha also has a home for young girls who were living on the streets or particularly vulnerable, we have a transition home for women returning from being trafficked abroad or who don’t have any family support. The income generated from sales goes a long way, as do donations to Friends of Basha.

The price of a Basha blanket pays for:

  • A fair wage to the woman who made it, based on local standards and cost of living (fairwageguide.org)
  • On-site childcare where children have a safe and stimulating environment. Plus, support for their education (tutoring if they are in school) and two healthy snacks a day (rice and lentils, noodles, eggs, milk, peanut butter).
  • Medical support, including on-site nurse visits and payment for 50-100% for their medical costs. (medications are often overused, hence the 50%; but, for example, with an employee’s recent heart valve replacement, 100% was covered between Basha and Friends of Basha).
  • Benefits, like an annual bonus & paid leave.
  • A safe, sensitive work environment. Many women Basha employs would not be employable somewhere else: women with anger issues, trauma, mental health issues, etc.
  • Ongoing education: 4-6 hours per week so they can continue to develop professionally and personally. 
  • Profit sharing: still a work-in-progress.
  • Marketing and product development, allowing Basha to grow & create more jobs for women at risk and survivors of trafficking. 
  • Access to the global market (via Shakti.ism and other partners)

The products

At Basha, the artisans are honoured by having their names and information on the products as much as possible. Most items are signed by the artisan and then people who buy their products can contact them and send a message if they like. From Basha’s website: We are privileged to work with many brave and talented women. These are their stories. Once you purchase an item from the Basha Collection, you can go to the site and look up the artisan who made your product. You can send her a message as well!

Basha. Where your purchase changes lives & builds futures.