Pathways for Promise, an initiative within the Asian University for Women, is providing free education to talented women from among Bangladeshi garment factory workers. The first programme of its kind provides full scholarships for exceptional female workers to earn Bachelor’s degrees. The ‘promise’ is in empowering women by giving them skills and knowledge to expand as people and leaders, as well as on those which increase work opportunities.
The boom in the export-oriented Bangladeshi garment manufacturing industry has caused more women to enter the workforce than ever before. With 65 percent of girls married before the age of eighteen and 29 percent before they are 15 years old, many young women in Bangladesh raise families alongside holding down low paid jobs and in poor conditions.
“Pathways for Promise aims to demonstrate to the world that the millions of women currently working in garment factories represent an untapped pool of human potential,” explains Miranda Morrison, Director of Program Development at the AUW. “After finishing their degrees, Pathways graduates will be agents of change across a wide range of sectors and many Pathways Scholars in the pilot have described their hope to take on managerial positions or start their own factories, remarkable goals in an industry fuelled by women, but managed by men.”
The real coup has been in persuading factory owners to continue paying workers whilst they are studying. This means each woman’s family will not suffer from a loss of income, the prospect of which otherwise may have pressured the women to decline the opportunity to continue their studies.
To date, the project has seen one hundred per cent retention with students in class five to six hours a day, attending extra intensive language programs, with karate classes thrown in too. A degree means women are more empowered and have the chance of a future earning more money, with better health and nutrition and their children are more likely to attend school.
“We want to show that every woman deserves respect, whether she sews shirts 12 hours a day or attends university or works in a bank,” Miranda adds. “Pathways for Promise has already begun to showcase these women and their talents, which we hope will encourage more women to aspire to greater heights, and discourage others in society from looking down on working-class women. Their successes will be proof to society at large that a woman’s potential is not bound by the limits of the factory floor.”
Dr. Rosie Bateson, AUW Dean of the Faculty, Asian University for Women