The global economy has brought millions of women between the ages of 16 and 25 into employment in export factories all across the developing world. Because many of these women are migrants working long hours, they are often isolated from traditional support networks that can help them with challenges such as working conditions, proper compensation, and access to education, health care, and other social services. At the same time, there is a great opportunity to leverage their presence in global supply chains to improve the welfare of these women, many of whom are entering the formal economy for the first time.
Drawing on nearly two decades of supply chain expertise, we created HERproject, a factory-based program that links BSR member companies, their suppliers, and local NGOs in emerging economies to raise female workers’ awareness of general and reproductive health and to improve their access to basic health services.
In 2009, we expanded the initiative to include projects in China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Vietnam, working with eight multinational companies and eight local NGOs. Through the project, local NGOs trained women in 30 factories to become peer educators on issues including nutrition, personal hygiene, reproductive health, family planning, and sexually transmitted diseases. This approach allows peer educators to share information not just through formal trainings and new worker orientations, but also during lunch and commute times.
In addition to the peer education, we launched efforts to improve factory-based clinics and create links between the factories and local hospitals or women’s clinics. So far, we have connected 12 clinics with local hospitals in China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
To date, HERproject has benefited approximately 50,000 women globally. The two main areas of impact are: Improved health awareness: Following trainings in factories in Vietnam, 97.3 percent of women said they knew how to use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections, compared with 59.3 percent before the trainings. In Pakistan, safe pre- and post-natal care knowledge increased:
The number of women who knew to get tetanus toxoid immunization during pregnancy increased from 30 percent to 83 percent, and the number of women who learned the importance of post-natal checkups increased from 50 percent to 92 percent. In Mexico, one factory saw a 38 percent increase in the number of respondents who had heard about, seen, or read about how to prevent diabetes.
Increased worker productivity: In Pakistan, women who improved their menstrual hygiene as a result of factory trainings reported a 25 percent reduction in poor concentration at work, 28 percent lower absenteeism, and 33 percent less difficulty in meeting production targets. Initial return-on-investment (ROI) analysis has confirmed that women in the factory worked an average of two-and- a-half more hours per month during the project period, representing an additional 615 days of work per year.
Thanks to our partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), we will further expand HERproject in 2010, launching initiatives in several new countries, with a focus on East Africa. More information is available in our 2010 report on HERproject, “Investing in Women for a Better World,” at herproject.org.