As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023 at the same as we begin our nineteenth year of Fair Trade business, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on the reasons why I started The Dharma Door and how we have stayed true to our core purpose. From the very beginning, our goal has been to empower disadvantaged women out of the cycle of poverty through trading fairly with them. It’s been a slow path and it certainly hasn’t always been easy, but seeing positive and meaningful change in artisan communities over the years has been incredibly rewarding.
By partnering with not-for-profit NGOs who are on the ground in Bangladesh and India, we have been able to build long-term relationships based on mutual trust and shared purpose. They train and support some of the poorest and most marginalised female artisans in remote, rural communities where access to education, training and health care has been very limited in the past. We appreciate how each organisation has a genuine understanding of the artisans’ needs and abilities and we work alongside them, learning and growing together as they strive to produce our designs to the level of quality of craftwomanship we are known for.
Artisans usually work from home, where they can also care for their family and tend to daily chores as is custom in their primarily patriarchal cultures. However, some of the major changes we have been proud to witness over years are men contributing to the household chores, agreeing to educate their girls and supporting the women in their work, along with reduced rates of domestic violence, possibly due to less financial stress. Our approach ultimately enables artisans to be more equal in their relationships and communities, paving the way for generational change.
It has always been very important to us to make sure the women who make our pieces are paid fairly for their time and skills. Together with our NGO partners, the artisans set the price for each design based on the time it takes to make; intricacy of design; and the cost of the raw materials. There’s a sense of dignity that comes with being able to earn their own income, and there is empowerment in being able to have some control over the finances and decision making in the family.
Being paid fairly is undoubtedly life-changing. However a host of other wonderful benefits also arise through their work: the pride of making something beautiful with their own hands; the camaraderie of learning new skills alongside other women; earning respect from their families and community; the dignity of being able to buy new clothes; access to medical care; and the opportunity to educate themselves and their children. When the artisans are earning a fair wage and receive regular work, they are also able to stay in their communities instead of moving to the cities for work. This helps to keep families together and builds stronger communities and ultimately has a hugely positive impact on everyone’s life.
We are looking forward to visiting the artisans in their communities this April and can’t wait to share their stories with you. Make sure you’re following us on socials so you can follow our journey through Bangladesh.
~ Shannon Sheedy - Founder, The Dharma Door
“My husband died in 2001. I was helpless after his death. Then a Fair Trade organisation gave me training and a job making hemp products. This saved my life and the lives of my children. I was able to send my son to university. He has since passed his bachelor’s degree, and one of my daughters is married. For a poor Bangladeshi woman, it’s a lot. I am happy for what I have achieved in life so far.
I didn’t have any education. After my husband passed away, nobody was giving me a job that would pay me enough to support my family. But, this organisation has stood by my side. When I retire, they will also give me the money from my retirement fund. I never dreamed of having such security in my old age. But, I do now and am very grateful to be a part of an organisation which has changed my life.”
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