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All eyes on Ze

  • Published at 11:30 am September 1st, 2020
Zee project
Photo: Courtesy

Fashion Theory launches a platform to facilitate mainstreaming of third gender workers in the RMG sector

The Rana Plaza tragedy was a watershed moment that really turned the global spotlight on worker’s conditions in the fast fashion industry. Although this meant that stricter compliance protocols were implemented to ensure worker safety, there’s still a long way to go before the RMG sector is one that does right by the workers that fuel its growth. Fashion Theory, a French buying house and fashion solutions company based in Bangladesh, believes that the next step is making inclusion a compliance requirement.

This month, Fashion Theory, in collaboration with Bandhu, the social welfare organization working for the rights of the third gender and gender diverse communities in Bangladesh, unveiled the Ze Project, an initiative that aims at mainstreaming the gender diverse workers into the RMG sector.

How this works

With inclusion as a core ideal, the project aims at promoting gender diversity awareness within apparel companies. This would happen in phases, starting with workshops about third gender identities and issues, to reduce stigmas and misconceptions and improve empathy within the company culture. The next step would be to develop and implement company policies that foster a safe, supportive and inclusive working atmosphere for gender diverse workers. The final stage would be to facilitate employment opportunities for the gender diverse workers.

"Although the pronoun «ze» tends to be thought of as gender neutral (and many people find pronouns to be an important affirmation of identity), a person who goes by «ze» could actually be a man, a woman, both, neither, or something else entirely"

Levels of allyship

1 star – Basic membership fee paid

2 stars – Workshops/communications on third gender participation, active recruitment underway

3 stars – third gender employee hired

4 stars – third gender workers form 2% of the company’s workforce

5 stars – at least one third gender worker makes it to management position

Membership to the Ze Project initiative comes at $1000USD a year, and the revenue goes to the local NGO partner, which undertakes all the responsibilities for conducting workshops at the participating/ally company premises, and providing candidates for employment, and running a hotline dedicated to the ZEproject employees to support the company mediation.

Benefits and implications

At the launch event, which was held at the Nordic Club on August 27, Bandhu Welfare Society made some audio visual presentations to illustrate the social stigma and economic realities of the gender diverse community in Bangladesh, to underscore the need for an active intervention in order to secure basic human rights such as security, education and access to healthcare, from which they are currently deprived on the basis of their gender identities.

This was followed by a frank and thought provoking live workshop demo, which, from the reaction of the cisgender participants, exposed just how much work remains to be done to achieve awareness.   

Bandhu’s Executive Director Shale Ahmed stressed the need for such awareness programs in order to not just help the third gender communities find an escape from discrimination and lift themselves out of the crippling poverty they experience, but also to help the cis gender members of the society feel more safe and secure.  

Anne Laure Pedegert, CEO, Fashion Theory, also added that inclusion of the gender diverse community into the apparel sector can only broaden the scope and possibilities for fashion. “For Bangladesh, in particular, pushing for inclusivity compliance protocols can be a strong branding statement, a unique selling point to counter perceptions that global consumers have about its RMG sector that aren’t necessarily positive.”


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