During my most recent trip for HERproject with colleague Ryan Flaherty, the term "fieldwork" took on a whole new meaning—we found ourselves suiting up in boots and smelling roses. Ryan and I traveled to Naivasha (an hour northwest of Nairobi) to lay the groundwork for expanding HERproject into the cut-flower and food-processing industries in Kenya. Traditionally, BSR’s HERproject—a factory-based program that provides peer-to-peer health education to female workers—has operated in factories in the garment and information technology (IT) sectors.

During our trip to Kenya, we learned a couple of valuable lessons:

  1. First, while the IT and garment industries may seem to have little in common with the cut-flower and food-processing industries, upon closer consideration, strong parallels do exist. For example, up to 80 percent of workers participating in the cut-flower and food-packaging industries in East Africa are women. Furthermore, the greenhouse and food pack-house structures closely resemble that of a garment factory. Finally, workers in both cases are often rural-to-urban migrant workers who are detached from their social networks. The peer health education methodology of relaying health information from woman to woman has succeeded in the IT and garment sectors because the majority of workers are women who work in close proximity to each other with pre-existing lines of communication. The similarities between these sectors implies a great deal of opportunity to replicate best practices from HERproject in the food and agriculture supply chains.
  2. A second lesson learned during our time in Kenya was that the peer-to-peer health education structure already exists within most of the food and agriculture companies to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS and prevention. HIV/AIDS continues to be among the most significant causes of death in East Africa, and it was encouraging to learn of these efforts. With that said, the majority of multilateral donors and corporate programs in the pharmaceutical and extractives industries are focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, leaving an educational gap on other salient health risks facing women. Similar to other countries in which HERproject operates, women lack health information concerning water sanitation, hygiene, reproductive health, nutrition, and ergonomics. HERproject will work within the existing peer health education structure to fill this gap and provide a more holistic approach to health education.

Building on the excitement of HERproject Kenya, Racheal Yeager and I will be traveling to India this week to meet with our local partners, visit existing HERproject factories, and speak with the women workers who are providing invaluable health education to their peers. After India, Zheng He and I will travel to Indonesia to lay the foundation for HERproject in the country.