Consider this: An estimated 1 billion women will enter the global workforce over the next two decades. Of these women, more than 90% will be in emerging and developing countries.
This means a lot of things for women, their families, and their communities. It means more women will seize economic opportunities; it means stronger, more prosperous families will break the cycle of poverty; and it means local, regional, and global economies will grow. The rise of women in the workforce in emerging and developing countries also offers an unprecedented opportunity for private companies to reach these women with workplace health programs – including critical reproductive health and family planning information and services.
Khoeriyah, who goes by “Lala” among her friends and family, is one of these women. Khoeriyah works at PT Tainan Enterprises, a garment manufacturer in Jakarta, Indonesia, which supplies to ANN INC., the parent company of Ann Taylor, LOFT, and Lou & Grey. Through her workplace, Khoeriyah learned about how to protect her reproductive health. In coordination with ANN INC., Tainan Enterprises implements the HERproject, a workplace women’s health program which provides trainings on a variety of topics including reproductive health and family planning.
“Without the HERproject, employees would not be able to plan their families – they would not know how to use contraception,” said Khoeriyah, who added that this information impacts her coworkers’ health and also empowers them to build better lives for themselves and their families. Increasing information and voluntary access to reproductive health and family planning services not only fulfills a basic human right for Khoeriyah and her colleagues, it has clear benefits for the business.
“We see improvements in absenteeism, turnover, and in turn it helps with the productivity in general for the workers. … The sense of belonging of the workers has been improved a lot throughout the project,” said Jerry Chang, the managing director for Tainan Enterprises, of the impact of the HERproject on his workforce.
ANN INC. is not alone in recognizing the ripple effect of healthy, empowered women in its workforce. Just this week, at the Family Planning Summit in London – a global convening by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK government, the UN Population Fund, and Family Planning 2020 to accelerate progress on reaching millions of women and girls in the world’s poorest countries with access to family planning – more than 10 private companies in a variety of sectors stepped up to the plate with new commitments.
From television to fashion to your morning tea, private companies at the summit made it clear they are prioritizing the health and rights of women in their networks. The MTV Staying Alive Foundation, in partnership with Viacom International Media Networks, committed to expanding its media campaign addressing youth sexual health through the popular teen drama “Shuga.” Lindex, a Swedish fashion chain, committed to providing health care information including family planning to more than 50,000 women in its supply chain in Bangladesh. Twinings, an international tea maker, committed to reach roughly 40,000 women tea workers in its supply chain in Kenya with health information and services, including reproductive health and family planning. The list goes on – companies around the world, including Vodafone; RB (Reckitt Benckiser), the maker of Durex; NST, a Philippines-based apparel supplier; Spark Minda, an Indian automobile component manufacturer; and more also made commitments.
These new partnerships showcase the potential of private companies to leverage their networks and expertise to address women’s health issues. Programs like these can be adopted and scaled across sectors to become mainstream, fulfilling a basic human right for women and paying dividends for businesses.
In fact, investments in workplace women’s health programs that include voluntary family planning have been found to result in a 3:1 return on investment for companies, and, at an even broader level, an incredible $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women participated in the economy at the same levels as men. That’s the size of the U.S. and Chinese economies combined. The bottom line: Empowering a woman to plan her family and her future unleashes her potential in the workforce and beyond.
Learn more about the Universal Access Project and get involved at www.universalaccessproject.org.