A young woman moves from her village and takes a factory job in the big city to support her family. After working long hours, she returns exhausted to her crowded dorm room. She doesn’t always sleep well, good nutrition is sometimes difficult and she falls ill often. Such is the plight of millions of female factory workers in developing nations. Without a community network to rely on for health care advice, these women often suffer from anemia, poor hygiene, inadequate pre- and post-natal health care, sexual violence and exposure to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis A and B and tuberculosis. That’s why the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) HERproject was launched in 2007. The project’s mission is to increase women’s health awareness and access to health services through sustainable workplace programs, an initiative now referred to as HERhealth. Recognized as a leading innovation for women’s health by the UN Every Woman, Every Child Initiative, the program has been implemented in more than 250 factories and farms in more than 10 countries including Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Pakistan. So far, more than 250,000 women have benefited and this year HERhealth is expanding to meet needs in Ethiopia and Myanmar.
HERhealth’s community-based interventions occur in the workplace. Trained peer health educators share information during work hours. Their goal is to improve awareness and behavior related to general and reproductive health, challenge harmful taboos, promote preventative care and increase access to health products and services. The curriculum was developed in partnership with local partner organizations and global experts and covers topics such as menstrual hygiene to nutrition to maternal health. A HERproject Toolbuilder supports local nonprofit organizations creation of image-rich, culturally relevant training tools to get the health messages across.
Recently the program was introduced in Vietnam, where the majority of the two million garment industry workers are women under the age of 30 from rural areas of the Mekong Delta, Red River Delta and north-central Vietnam. The program has been implemented by the Centre for Promotion of Quality of Life (Life Centre) and has reached almost 25,000 women workers in garment and footwear factories in Ho Chi Min City, Hanoi and surrounding provinces. Corporate donors include Marks & Spencer, Talbots and Timberland.
So far, participants note that not only is women’s health improved through the program, but corporate partners have experienced a return on investment as high as $4:$1 due to a reduction in absenteeism and turnover, increased productivity, and improved worker-management relations.
HERhealth is part of a larger HERproject mission to empower low-income women working in global supply chains through workplace programs promoting health, economic empowerment and women’s rights. The project was created by BSR, a global nonprofit (business network) organization that works with a network of more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.