“We don't feel like feminists. We don't feel equal. We feel trapped.”
The picture above depicts the opposite of what feminism looks like. Why? Because the women in the photo – some of the thousands that work in a sweatshop in Mauritius – are paid less than an hour per day to produce shirts which are sold for £45 ($70).
According to investigative journalist Ben Ellery, who shared his findings with The Daily Mail, women in the Indian Ocean sweatshop sleep in dormitories that house 16 women at a time and work long hours away from their family. They’re also paid roughly a dollar an hour to print shirts that read “This is what a feminist looks like.” Ironic, much?
The t-shirts may carry a defiant slogan, but the women who create them feel anything but empowered. One month of this labor earns them only 5,000 rupees – the equivalent of £120 ($182).
“We do not see ourselves as feminists. We see ourselves as trapped,” said one of the thousand machinists. “How can this T-shirt be a symbol of feminism when we do not see ourselves as feminists?”
Worn by everyone from Simon Pegg to Nick Clegg to British politician Harriet Harman, the shirts cost just £9 to make. High street chain Whistles, however, sells them for £45 each – a figure it would take the women a week and a half to earn.
Perhaps the most painful part? The shirts are sold in conjunction with the charity Fawcett Society (whose slogan is “Working for women’s rights since 1886”).
Said Fayzal Ally Beegun, president of the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers Union:
“It would take a woman working in the factory nearly two weeks just to buy one shirt. What is feminist about that? These women have nothing in this world. They are paid a pittance and any money they do receive they send back home.
They work very long hours and have no lives other than their work. They are on four-year contracts that mean they don’t get to see their families in that time. What kind of existence is it when you are sharing your bedroom with 15 other women?”
In wake of the expose, the Fawcett Society promised an urgent investigation.
The charity also issued the following statement:
“We have been very disappointed to hear the allegations that conditions in the Mauritius factory may not adhere to the ethical standards that we, as the Fawcett Society, would require of any product that bears our name. At this stage, we require evidence to back up the claims being made by a journalist at the Mail on Sunday. However, as a charity that campaigns on issues of women’s economic equality, we take these allegations extremely seriously and will do our utmost to investigate them.”
If the allegations are true, it’s an embarrassing publicity stunt that will hopefully cede the spotlight to the exploitation of these women. No matter the message being sported on shirts, all factories and businesses should be adhering to labor laws and honoring their employees.
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This article (Ultimate Irony: These Women Make $70 Feminist T-Shirts For Less Than $1 An Hour) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TrueActivist.com
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