International Women's Day originated from a movement to establish women workers' rights. Alhough it has become much broader in scope, it is grossly commercialised today, speakers said at a programme marking the occasion at Baikunthapur tea garden in Habiganj.
Amid all of this, no one should forget the day's origins and neglect the difficulties faced by working class women every day, they added.
Organised by workers of Baikunthapur tea garden under the banner of "Nari Dibosh Udjapon Committee, Lashkarpur Valley", the event brought together tea workers from all over the area, including the aforementioned Baikunthapur, Chandpur Tea Estate, Chondichhora Tea Estate, Begumkhan Tea Garden and more.
The programme centred on the 13-point demand put forward by women workers of the area.
The demands include increasing overtime pay, extending maternity leave, allowing menstrual leave, providing access to child delivery services, making sanitary toilets and providing free sanitary pads.
In her speech, activist and tea worker Shondhya Rani Bhowmik reminded of the day's origins at the hands of women workers in Chicago.
She said the 13-point demand is not only meant for Lashkarpur Valley, but for the welfare of tea workers everywhere. "There's only a few of us from a few gardens here, but we don't speak just for us, we speak for workers across all tea gardens of the country."
In her speech, Luna Noor, central committee member of Communist Party of Bangladesh, said, "I don't have the audacity to speak in front of you. My struggles in middle-class Dhaka pale in comparison to what you go through every day."
"Today we have Women's Day concerts, festivals and fairs where whitening creams are given out for free, while tea workers like you are out on the street demanding sanitary pads," she lamented.
Researcher, writer, and activist Maha Mirza said, "I first came to this area during Chunarughat's Chandpur tea garden protests (against the government move to set up a special economic zone there). The spirit I saw then still burns here today."
Tea worker and activist Nilu Bauri from Begumkhan said, "Our husbands try to close our doors, but we want to break free and run towards the light."
Her fellow worker and activist Khairun Akhter said, "A woman's psyche is a product of all the battles she has to fight every day."
Speaking of demands of overtime pay, she said, "Eighty percent of tea workers are women. Do you have any idea what would happen if we stopped going to work?"
"Why will we settle for Tk 2.5 (for each extra kg of leaves)? We won't settle until we get Tk 8," said Khairun.
Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union General Secretary Rambhajan Kairi told the attendance, "The union expresses solidarity with the 13-point demand. We will help you achieve them."
Following the programme, an award ceremony recognised ten female tea workers as "Cha Konya" for their roles in various issues related to workers' rights.
The evening came to a close with a cultural session that brought socially conscious entertainment to the attendance.
The programme was attended by tea workers, tea labour union representatives, local politicians and activists alongside social workers from Dhaka.