In Conversation with Factory Workers in Bangalore

February 22, 2010

I was recently in Bangalore to kick off the HERproject Southern India expansion through renewed partnerships with international companies, their supplier factories, and our local partner St. John’s Medical College.

I grew up in Bangalore and would often meet women who worked in garment factories and who regularly complained of respiratory problems, skin problems, and long working hours. In India, as in many other developing countries, women’s health and education challenges exist because of cultural fears, stereotypes, and discrimination. Through a unique and simple peer educator model, HERproject is addressing these very challenges by training female factory workers to improve their general and reproductive health awareness.

During this trip, Racheal Yeager and I visited a Bangalore factory, which has been running and benefiting from a HERproject program for the last year. The program covers more than 1,600 female workers. Speaking Kannada—my native tongue and the local language of the region—we spoke to the factory’s management, the HERproject peer educators, a group of workers, and the clinic nurse to better understand the health risks these workers face in this intensive labor environment.

Here are just a few highlights from these conversations:

  1. The women we spoke with said that, since starting the program, they’ve developed the confidence to communicate and share health knowledge on family planning, nutrition, reproductive health, and exercises with their family members and female friends. They also have a better understanding of child care and menstrual health. When asked about specific changes in behavior, the workers called out, “We all now eat breakfast before coming to work and feel less dizzy.”
  2. The factory management noted the positive worker-management relationship thanks to the program and have committed to continuing the program for another year. Line supervisors are working hand in hand with the human resources team and welfare officers to allow the women to be available for the training modules during convenient times in the production process. When quizzed on the impact on the factory, the managing director proudly stated, “We do not have to go in search of workers anymore. They come to us.”
  3. Columbia Sportswear Co., which invested and paid for the program implementation costs in the factory, is eager to continue the program because of the equally encouraging response from management and workers.

Building on the program success in this factory—and others around the world—HERproject is set to expand to eight to 10 factories in and around Bangalore in 2010.

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