Vietnam’s textile and apparel sector accounts for approximately 25 per cent of workers in the country’s manufacturing industry, around 80 per cent of whom are women. However, with limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, female factory workers often have high rates of unplanned pregnancies and reproductive tract infections, requiring an average of 14.8 days off each year. In addition to the toll on women’s lives, a reduced workforce negatively affects productivity and workforce engagement.
This partnership aimed to increase demand for and access to high-quality health care amongst female workers to improve health outcomes, promote better employee engagement and retention, and increase overall productivity by enhancing the provision of specialist sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) at Pou Chen’s factory in Ho Chi Minh City. DFAT and Pou Chen provided funding to the initiative and Marie Stopes International provided technical support.
A section of the factory’s existing clinic was refurbished and opened in June 2017 as the BlueStar Corner. Health staff were trained by Marie Stopes International in providing reproductive health care, counselling, and protecting women’s privacy and rights. In early 2018, the clinic engaged an experienced obstetrician-gynaecologist three days per week in order to improve the delivery of specialised quality reproductive health care and to comply with health insurance requirements. Over 400 worker representatives were recruited and trained as intermediaries and peer educators, creating a more ‘health-aware” workforce and improving communication between management and workers. Both female and male line managers also took part in training to promote women’s rights, particularly the right to access health care.
The BlueStar Corner resulted in significant quality improvements to SRH services at the factory. In turn, demand for these services significantly improved, from around 200 clients per month in 2015 to 2,000 clients per month in 2018. Overall, 80,000 female workers now have access to improved health care. Female employees said that they trusted the services provided at the BlueStar Corner and valued the improvements.
Addressing women’s health is a catalytic tool for achieving long-term, broad development objectives benefitting women, their families and their communities. Various activities were conducted to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment during this partnership including improving the quality of reproductive health counselling, offering diversified family planning methods for female workers, increased access to reproductive health information, and exit interviews from workers to give recommendations for improvement to factory management.
By collaborating with a footwear manufacturer and a technical expert in SRH, the BPP brought about significant improvements for female factory workers at the Pou Yuen factory in Vietnam, fulfilling its goal of partnering with business to address development challenges in our region. Based on the significant achievements of this partnership, Pou Chen Group and Marie Stopes International will replicate the model at another factory employing 20,000 female workers.