Sanitation workers represent one of the most important yet undermined workforces in Bangladesh. The work they do impacts the collective health and hygiene of the country, yet the discrimination faced by the people in this occupation is one of the most pronounced and far-reaching. Unfortunately, their plight is also one of the most ignored and overlooked. Sanitation workers in their course of work face various health hazards; handling toxic and hazardous materials, getting injured at work and an inability to call in sick with paid holidays, added to the already stressful nature of the tasks involved. Workers have little or no protective equipment to combat or minimise the hazards. As well as the health hazards and poor working conditions of the sanitation and waste workers, the group also face social stigma and obstructions to social mobility due to their nature of work. They find it hard to get work in a different field, get access to better education and overall are unable to command a respectful place in society.
For their innovation project, WaterAid Bangladesh focused specifically on the plight of female sanitation workers. The issues and negative effects faced by sanitation workers are magnified for women, and even further overlooked. As many as 27 per cent of female sanitation workers face some sort of physical or sexual abuse.
Women face an increased threat to their health due to not having enough support or time off during menstruation and pregnancies, and lack access to toilets. Lack of paid sick leave and affordable health check-ups also hinders the maintenance of good health and hygiene. Women also face an unfair pay gap while doing the same work as a male worker.
In order to combat these issues, WaterAid Bangladesh developed a short film aimed at documenting the unheard and unseen difficulties of female waste and sanitation workers. The film, titled “Kohinoor”, follows a day in the life of a female waste worker at a landfill in Dhaka.
Through demonstrating the unique challenges and experiences of female sanitation workers, Kohinoor raises awareness among the general public, the media, and key policy and decision makers to instigate change and improve the working conditions of this workforce.
The film strategically stars A-list actress, Zakia Bari Mamo. It was hoped her popularity would bring extra attention to the film’s release.
Originally expected to reach five million people within three months from launch, the film and associated campaign had already reached almost 2.5 million as of the film’s release date on 23 June 2022. This was almost 50% of the target KPI.
Following its release, the film and its messages featured across popular media, including the Dhaka Post, Kaler Kontho, The Daily Star, Jugantor, Ittefaq, Amader Shomoy, Bangla News 24, RTV, Channel I, and Jamuna TV.
The film will also soon be viewable on Bioscope, a premier mobile-based live TV and OTT platform in Bangladesh, which has the potential to expand the reach of the film to up to 15 million.
Kohinoor has also been promoted organically by high profile influencers such as Enayet Chowdhury, who has a following of almost half a million, and Sakib Bin Rashid. This promotion has helped to build a social movement dedicated to improving the work conditions of waste and sanitation workers.
The next steps for WaterAid Bangladesh’s innovation will be expanding reach in both digital and traditional media, as well as further integrating the campaign’s messages into WaterAid’s advocacy program. WaterAid Bangladesh will aim to push this message to different entities, including city corporations that are responsible for managing the landfills and that rely heavily on sanitation workers. We hope to propose viable solutions to the issues in the sanitation value chain, including the basic needs of people working in harsh landfill conditions. Our focus is to enable city corporation authorities to empower waste and sanitation workers and agree on initiatives that help them secure a dignified place of work as well as improved health, income, and education outcomes.
We also hope to submit “Kohinoor” for international recognition and awards to further the messages and agenda of the film.
Key challenges & learnings
- As the film required actors to shoot in a real landfill set up, it was initially difficult to on board an appropriate lead and supporting roles for the project.
- The innovative and unconventional nature of the project made it difficult to educate an agency on the mission and vision of the film.
- Developing a script that would send messages aimed at empowerment and advocacy while retaining significant media appeal was difficult, and caused delays as we chose not to compromise on the quality of the script.
- Due to the innovation steps and processes followed, there were initial constraints that we already identified during design phase, which is an integral part of graduating each process and step in the innovation stages.
Stay up to date
Sign up to the newsletter and hear more about the Impact Accelerator’s progress and other WaterAid projects