Over the past five years, BSR’s HERproject has reached nearly 120,000 women around the world, equipping them with powerful health knowledge to improve their own lives as well as the lives of their families and communities. And although this impact is quite significant, we’re frequently asked: “What about the men? Wouldn’t they benefit from increased health knowledge and awareness too?”
Even though HERproject targets female workers, men’s participation in the program is also important. Male factory workers face unique health risks of their own. They are also critical partners when it comes to pre- and post-natal care, family planning, and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—health topics that are at the core of the HERproject curriculum for women. And at some HERproject sites, men actually comprise the majority of the workforce, making their health improvements particularly material to the factory.
The Levi Strauss Foundation and Levi Strauss & Company (LS&Co) recognized this opportunity to expand HERproject’s impact by engaging men too. Working with Aga Khan University, one of our implementing partners in Pakistan, LS&Co decided to sponsor a second phase of the program that targeted men at a factory that had successfully completed the female-focused phase. During this first phase, the female workers—who represented 10 percent of the workforce—experienced countless health benefits, and the factory reported reduced absenteeism and turnover rates as well.
In the pilot project that expanded our program methodology to male participants, we learned several important lessons about how to adapt the HERproject model to include men:
- A health needs assessment (HNA) should be conducted for men as well as women. Initial baseline assessments will reveal different health needs. For example, our HNA revealed smoking, drug addiction, and dengue fever as top unmet health needs for men that were not needs for female workers.
- The HERproject curriculum , which includes issues unique to women (such as menstruation), should be modified to include health needs relevant for male participants, such as causes of and the male’s role and responsibility for infertility.
- Trainings should emphasize a man's responsibility and influence over family decisions that can impact his wife’s health and the health of his current and future children. This is particularly important for topics such as family planning, reproductive health, and protecting against STIs.
- Trainers should stress to both married and single men the crucial role women play in the family and how neglecting women’s general and reproductive health can have grave consequences for everyone.
- If possible, use a male trainer or nurse to conduct trainings on sensitive health topics. If one is not available, have a physician (either male or female) as well as a male member of management present at the trainings to help the male workers overcome their shyness or hesitancy in discussing health issues with female trainers.
- The factory nurse, whether male or female, should be trained on all of the topics in the men’s curriculum so he or she can respond to male and female workers’ questions or concerns.
- Trainings should target the underlying causes of unhealthy behaviors, such as economic, financial, and social pressures.
After the implementation of HERproject for men in Pakistan, factory management reported several improvements in health behaviors and attitudes. Men visited the onsite clinic more frequently to ask questions about their own health as well as the health of their wives, and they demanded that unhealthy behaviors like smoking and chewing betel be prohibited.
For women and men alike, HERproject has proven to be a successful model for improving worker well-being, as it relates to health and beyond. The peer education approach empowers individuals to take responsibility for improving their own lives and the lives of their families and communities. This shift in behavior will have positive implications far beyond the factory walls.
This blog was written in partnership with Dr. Neelofar Sami, Aga Khan University.