By: Madeline Taskier, Partnership Coordinator at Women Deliver
Across the developing world, women workers are a rising force in manufacturing industries, yet many of these women don’t have access to adequate healthcare or knowledge of their health-related rights in the workplace. The HERproject, founded by BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), is working to change that with a peer-driven health education initiative that focuses specifically on women workers in factories in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, women comprise the majority of the workforce in the manufacturing of textiles, home goods, and apparel. The need is staggering: In Pakistan, for example, the lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 93 and the contraceptive prevalence rate is just 30 percent. For many women, the workplace is the only venue where they can access reproductive and maternal health services. To address this need, The HERproject began working in 2007 in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Through a series of partnerships with 13 companies, 50 factories, local organizations, clinics, hospitals, and population health departments, BSR and its partners are working to give women the services and information they need to stay healthy.
Some of the major issues affecting the reproductive and maternal health of female workers are lack of family planning access, lack of knowledge about health-related rights, minimal understanding of HIV/AIDS prevention and pre- and post-natal care, and unhealthy personal hygiene behaviors during menstrual periods. The HERproject curriculum addresses these issues through peer-led seminars.
At the Levi Strauss & Co. textile factory in Pakistan, nearly 72 percent of female workers had difficulty achieving production targets during their menstrual periods. During the health needs assessment conducted at the start of the program, the team revealed that not one female worker of the 3,567 in four factories was using menstrual pads. Seventy-five percent of female workers had never seen a condom before and only 30 percent of the women knew the importance of prenatal nutrition and getting a tetanus toxoid immunization.
In a partnership with Aga Khan University’s Department of Community Health Science, Aahung (a sexual and reproductive rights organization in Karachi, Pakistan), the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, Green Star Social Marketing, and Ipas, Levi Strauss and the HERproject team developed trainings in pre-natal nutrition, health-related rights, HIV/AIDS, family planning, and domestic violence. Workers learned about their rights to be assigned easier duties during pregnancy, to go on maternity leave and to access on-site factory childcare. The women in all four factories were also linked directly with health service providers and menstrual products.
What were the results? After the 18-month training, the HERproject team tracked a number of successes:
- Female worker absenteeism was 11 percent lower;
- Women worked an average 2.5 hours more per month during their menstrual periods;
- Knowledge of essential immunizations, pre- and post-natal care increased from 30 to 86 percent among female workers;
- Women reported better work-manager relations because the workers felt valued by the company and could better communicate with their managers; and
- The company experienced increased interest and recruitment from the local community due to their improved reputation for workplace health and welfare.
The HERproject continues to be a leader in women’s workplace health initiatives spreading the message that companies can do business while doing good, and that investing in women is a sure path to a better world.
- Check out other countries and companies involved in the HERproject.
- Browse the HERproject Health Curriculum.