As part of the yearly commemoration of Fashion Revolution Week in April, the global organisation that advocates for a fair, safe, clean, transparent industry, launched a report that details the marginalisation of women cotton farmers in India. Titled ‘Gender Equity and its Impact on Sustainability in Cotton Farming in India’, the report talks of the “role, challenges, and opportunities of gender in bringing sustainability to cotton farming.”
Women farmers, who make up 70% of cotton farmers in India, own only 13% of the land — the rest is owned by men, says the report, now available on Fashionrevolution.org. They also earn 25% to 50% less than men and the perception in the community is that they take on ‘lighter’ or ‘softer’ work, simply because it does not involve heavy tools or equipment, even though the work is more drudgery-prone and takes a longer time.
The work of women cotton farmers is also seldom seen, because men take on the market-facing jobs. Because most women are not acknowledged as farmers, they are not counted in the number of farmer suicides.
How we can help
At the Zoom launch of the report that took a year to research, Sarah Ditty, the Policy Director of Fashion Revolution said it was time to look at “fundamental systemic change” at three levels: the culture of fashion (which every consumer can participate in), industry (companies and brands and their value chains), Government policy.
A few of the ways people who are not involved in the fashion industry can change the reality of women cotton farmers is simply by demanding honesty and transparency from brands, buying only when needed, and shopping Indian brands that are built on the bedrock of sustainability. Okhai, for instance, works exclusively with women cotton farmers. No Nasties that has a Fairtrade certification, has a non-profit social enterprise called Once Upon a Doug aimed at “giving women cotton farmers a secondary income”.
Fashion Revolution was founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, both professionals in the sustainable fashion industry, after the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse — in Dhaka, Bangladesh — which killed 1,138 people. The building was the sweat shop for large international brands, some of whom claimed they had no idea that work here was feeding into their supply chains.
This year, even as Fashion Revolution launches the yearly Fashion Transparency Index 2020, the organisation calls for people to ask of brands and or ourselves: #WhatsInMyClothes. They also run a campaign called #WhoMadeMyClothes? These throw up questions like ‘Who grew the cotton in my kurta?’; ‘How much does a person who tills the land make?’; ‘What is the impact on a farmer if I shop fast fashion rather than garments made of handwoven cloth?’
We may not get ready answers to all of these questions, but it may help us acknowledge the problem and act. Perhaps we will shift to natural fabrics that are regenerative, rather than factory generated, mass produced clothes that choke the environment. Fashion can then move from a place of privilege to a sector that generates solidarity.
Post a picture of yourself wearing an outfit that you can trace back to a tailor, a weaver, a blockprinter, with the hashtag #WhatsInMyClothes and #WhoMadeMyClothes on your Twitter account and tag us @THMetroPlus