HERhealth: Health education for Dhaka's garment workers

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 2 September 2015

HERproject was launched in a number of ready-made garment factories across the world to generate awareness and knowledge about nutrition, health and hygiene among women from low socio-economic backgrounds as well as with low literacy rates. The branch of HERproject in Bangladesh is called HERhealth, managed by Change Associates Bangladesh and headed by Nazneen Huq. It is funded and supported by many multinational clothing companies who import garments from Bangladesh such as Primark, Marks and Spencer, Abercrombie and Fitch, etc., as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. At present, 35 factories in and around Dhaka have taken up HERhealth and are reaping its benefits at several levels.

The first step for HERhealth is to approach ready-made garment companies and interact with a small number of factory nurses and female workers to train them on basic health using a peer education methodology. Once approved, the trainers from HERproject start training a handful of workers, called peer educators, who later disseminate their learning to other female workers. Common diseases addressed include anemia and reproductive tract infections, and common areas of education include maternal health, menstruation, personal hygiene, etc. For instance, many women who use pieces of cloth during their periods are taught the benefits of using sanitary napkins. In addition, the women are taught how and why they should boil drinking water and the different types of water-related diseases this simple precaution combats. This not only promotes better health for the women themselves but also for their families and communities, resulting in decreasing rates of diseases like cholera.

Another way the workers' families benefit from HERhealth is through a better diet. When women are taught nutrition and health, they relate these lessons to their personal lives and experiences, and try to utilize them. When they cook for their families, they realize that eating healthy is not necessarily expensive, and they incorporate more fresh vegetables and protein in their meals. Also, HERhealth coordinates with the factory management and encourages better utilization of nearby clinics when necessary, and facilitates access to healthcare services both in and outside the factories. The impact of this project over time is tracked by baseline and endline surveys conducted by HERproject. Thus far, the project has shown an impressive gain of knowledge among the women. Many factory managers are now looking for a similar project for male workers.

The benefits of this project are not limited to better health for the female workers, but also immense positive impact on company dividends, meaning that factories continue to endorse the program. This is because workers are able to produce better quality work and are less likely to miss working days due to injury or sickness. The peer-tutoring method also fosters effective communication in the company between staff and management as well as amongst the workers themselves, resulting in greater teamwork. Moreover, the women take back what they learn from the sessions to their homes and communities, meaning that the impact is reaching a greater population through a snowball effect. HERproject is a promising initiative for the ready-made garment industry, bringing about positive change in health care at the workplace and beyond. This is not only in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of promoting better health, but also benefits all stakeholders by eradicating poverty in the women's communities because they are able to work better and earn more.

Photo: HERproject

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