The WSCF AP HRJP Workshop with the theme, “Called to be God’s Instruments of Peace and Reconciliation” was held from July 12 to 18, 2009 at the Hope Training Center in Savar, Dhaka Bangladesh. The Workshop was attended by 30 participants from 12 member movements of WSCF AP and representatives from network members of EASYNet Bangladesh. Participants came from the following countries: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
The HRJP Workshop aimed to mobilize Christian youth to work for human rights, justice and peace in Asia-Pacific countries by providing them the Faith motivation, knowledge, skills and framework of analysis for human rights, justice and peace advocacy work. In particular the Training‐Workshop aimed to:
The Workshop methodology and process included inputs from invited resource persons and facilitators who were knowledgeable in the field of Human Rights education and advocacy, group discussions and presentations by the participants on the HR situations in their countries, Bible studies and Biblico‐theological reflections on HR issues, exposure programs to areas with groups of people engaged in human rights advocacy, and sessions on developing the participants as Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and helping them develop HR programs in their national movements.
Invited resource people included, Dr. Faustina Periera, the Director of Human Rights and Legal Services of BRAC, the biggest developmental NGO in Asia, spoke on the topic Human Rights from the Bangladesh Perspective. In her presentation, she clarified the fine line that differentiate between the concept of ‘human need’ and ‘human rights,’ and that human rights as tools and instruments has translated basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, education as ‘rights’ to be enjoyed by all. She also emphasized and explained the basic principles of Human Rights that of being universal, inalienable, indivisible, inherent and interrelated. And because of these principles, the Bangladesh perspective on human rights should not differ so much from other countries in Asia-Pacific, although the degree of violations and situation are different. Dr. James Dash, country director of Leprosy Mission in Bangladesh provided some thoughts on the biblical perspective on human rights, emphasizing that Christian belief that everyone is created in the Image of God and all are equal in God. He said, these are two of the most compelling Christian beliefs that will guide Christians in their Human Rights and social justice involvement. He also related his reflections on the theme of the program and the important role of the SCMs in challenging the churches in South Asia to engage in political processes, especially in advocating for human rights. He noted that churches in this sub‐region have confined themselves in traditional mission work in field of education, health service, and charity work.
Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Prof of Law from Dhaka University and Director of ELCOP revisited the HR concepts and related these concepts in the current global situation. He said that global political and economic structures have contributed in heightening of conflict situation and the worsening Human Rights situation in many countries in the region, particularly following the declaration of the ‘Global War on Terror’ by the US after 9/11.
Facilitators included Lakshan Dias, Human Rights lawyer and senior friend of SCM Sri Lanka, provided the basic input on the history, basic concept and tools of HR, HRDs and building SCM HR Programs. Lakshan pointed three important points in the historical development of HR. First, the realization of the need to develop a common framework for the UDHR to deal with global human problems is preceded by great human catastrophe, such as World War I and II. In the course of the development of Human Rights, the two super‐powers (US and USSR) led in the development of specific HR tools that will embody their ideological frameworks, the US and its allies promoted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which emphasizes on individual rights, freedom and liberties, while the USSR and Socialist block promoted the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESR), emphasizing on the economic social collective rights of people. Third, HR concepts and tools are evolving in history as new rights are being recognized by the UN.
Doim Bangjoo, WSCF AP HR Coordinator led a Bible study on Human Rights and inter‐faith, using critical understanding of the various traditions and beliefs of other faith to enrich our understanding of Christian faith. Necta Montes Rocas, WSCF AP Regional Secretary provided some guidelines on doing Bible Study with a critical perspective. She pointed out the importance of dialogue between the text (bible) and context to reveal the message in the bible. The text should be understood in a particular historical context and should not be interpreted literally. While the context should begin with experiences of people as they try to find its meaning and relevance in the contemporary world. She shared that a re‐reading of the Bible from the feminist perspective is an example from which a new approach can be used to do bible studies for the SCMs. In her bible study session, she used Judges 19:1‐30, the story of “Levite’s Concubine” to illustrate this process by listen to the voice of the women in the text and finally, to discuss the issue of Violence Against Women in today’s context.
Three exposure groups were organized by the Local Host to provide the participants with concrete experiences of the lives of people who are engaged in HR struggles and advocacies in their own communities. The participants were divided to three areas learn about the rights of the Adivasis or indigenous people to land and self‐determination in Tangail, Mymensingh; the rights of sexual minorities and sex workers in Mymensigh; rights to just compensation of women garments workers in Dhaka.
In the Exposure Group Sharing, the groups were asked to reflect and present their exposure group experience according to the following guidelines:
The following is a summary of the exposure sharing and reports of each of the exposure groups.
The group shared the information they gathered from the conversations with the sex workers they in the exposure program. Out of the 251 sex workers in the area, 64 were ‘bonded’ sex workers and under 18 years of age. The primary reason for them to become sex workers is to earn money. Women feel that the brothel is the safest way to earn money. Others say that for the girls that have been brought up in the brothels, there is no way out but to become sex‐workers, like their mothers who are also sex workers. They believe that there is no other opportunity to survive and “Allah” gave them this misfortune. Most of them live in dirty and unhygienic environment, where they can easily get sick of ordinary illnesses. According to them, brothels are like prison with social stigma due to poverty.
The group also spent some time with MSMs or Men having sex with Men in the exposure area. The situation of MSM is hard to discuss in the Muslim country like Bangladesh as their existence is often denied and they cannot move freely within the society. Compared to women sex‐workers, the social discrimination against MSMs in family, school, health, police, employment/Income, local government is less. MSMs are mostly identified by their behavior, dress and make‐up. They explained that MSMs are pressured to become transgendered, to use drug to increase feminine hormones to become less vulnerable and more acceptable. They also want long term relationship, but they find this difficult because of cultural stereotypes (straight/gay issue).
Government Response to the issue:
People’s Response to the issue:
Learning Points from the Exposure
The education level of the women workers were relatively low, from a minimum of Class 5 (primary level) and maximum of Class 10 (secondary level). The average working age is between 21‐22 years old and the average period to time they have worked in the factory is 5‐6 years. The regular working hours is 9 hours including lunch break, but most of them work up to 15 hours a day to include 6 hours of over‐time. The monthly basic salary is 1565 Taka or USD $21.57 and overtime pay is 10.85 Taka per hour. Only workers in Tongi have holidays on Friday and Tuesday.
The garments factories in Bangladesh are concentrated in the so‐called BEPZ or Bangladesh Export Processing Zone side of colony. The garments produced in these factories are exported to Canada, USA, Australia, EU, China, Korea, Japan etc. In the BEPZ area, workers live far from the working factory and there is no additional payment for the over time working hours. The working hours in the BEPZ is from 8 am‐10 pm or 14 hours.
Most of the women workers come from families who are below the poverty line. Often, they do not know the labor laws, therefore they don’t know how to ask for just wages. Workers do not know about their working hours and the working category before they join in the factory. Some of the women are physically abused by their husband, but they cannot leave this situation because they have no options, they are poor and needs to work in the factory.
The factory owners hire gangsters to intimidate and push the workers to do their job in difficult situations without complaining. The factory owners discriminate and do not hire fat or thin people to work in the factory. Female workers are sexually harassed by the supervisors/managers/officers etc. Workers cannot highlight their physical condition (e.g. Pregnancy) to ensure that they are continuously employed. Under the law, pregnant woman have 16 weeks paid leave, but the reality is that Bangladesh government cannot compromise with the workers about their working right. Workers cannot get their job back if they leave.
The Exposure group noted the following Human Rights Violation Issues in the case of the women garment workers and related this with the UDHR:
Response of Government
What WSCF and SCM can do?
The group went to visit the Garo Tribe in Gachabari, Jalchatra, Mymensigh, a protected area under the Bangladesh government forest department. The Garo Tribe are predominantly Catholic Christians with a population of almost 10,000 people and 975 families. The Garo people are farmers producing, pineapple, banana, ginger and turmeric.
Jalchatra covers 45,000 acres land that used to be owned by the Adivasi (indigenous) people. 36000 acres of these land was taken over by government as a protected area, hence 9000 acres are now Adivasi land. Out of this, 15000 acres were taken by the business people and 21000 acres is still disputed. Garo people have been living in this land even before the govt. declared it a forest reserve in 1961. When the land was taken from the Adivasi, they were not given any compensation for their lands as they don’t have any knowledge about their rights to the land.
The exposure group studied two cases of right violation involving the Garo tribe. These were of Joel and Paulias case, and Roshan and Dapau case. The group met the wife and narrated that 5 forest cases were filed against his husband Paulias and 1 forest case against his son, Joel. Paulias has been in jail for 12 days and he is now living in Dhaka to seek refuge from the police. They showed us documents of the property which were rejected by the government. In the case of Roshan, 11 forest cases filed against him, including 11 other farmers (10 men, 1 woman).
With the group’s discussion with the leaders of the Indigenous ACDF(Adivasi Community Development Forum), they found out that it was in 1962 the forestry department issued the eviction notice against the Garo tribe, although the eviction notice has stopped now. Govt. and forestry dept. decided to make an eco‐park in the land, a boundary around 3000 acres of land.
The group noted the following Human Rights Violation issues against the Indigenous People and related these with the UDHR;
What can we do?
The participants were divided into three groups to share about the Human Rights situation in their counties. The following guide questions were given for the groups to follow:
The following is the summary of the sharing from each group. From these sharing, the each group identified a common theme and issue that they can work together and create an action plan.