Vietnam_Factory worker holding up sign

5 Min Inspiration: Shorter hours, fish heads, and equality at work

Here’s something that some would have never considered: eating a fish head proves equality at home. This story from a woman in Bangladesh shows what a difference engaging men can make: “Before, whenever my father bought a big fish in our house, he always let my younger brother eat the fish’s head. He didn’t even care about my sisters and me. But after receiving the training, my father now divides it between us. Because we’re also his children…”

When you think about your wellbeing and work, what would make a difference to you? Working fewer hours? Getting better food at home? Having someone help out more with chores at home? Not getting sexually harassed at work—or feeling safe on the way to and from your job?

Bangladesh_Factory worker in yellow sewing clothes

Women in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam have experienced all of these changes in the last 3 years. Even more, they have created these changes in their own lives, and for other women in their communities. An estimated 11,900 women have taken actions to make changes in the factories where they work and communities where they live.

The Worker Wellbeing project ran from 2018-2021 in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam with $2.5 million in funding from Target Enterprises, Inc. The project reached 58,000 people directly (53,000 women) and 1.7 million people indirectly.

Vietnam_Woman standing in front of sewing stations

What changed?

  • Women feel safer. 70% of women say they have seen less harassment at work in the last 12 months. It’s not just at work, either. A woman in Bangladesh says, “in front of my house…it is very dangerous especially for women at night. After we explained our concerns on sexual harassment to the local councillor, and the Councillor arranged streetlights in the area… we did not have the courage to approach them before and they never asked us what we need. It was through Worker Wellbeing Project that we were able to raise our demands.”
  • Women are standing up together. 53% of women had taken action to improve working conditions—most often by working together as a group. That’s 11,900 women taking action. In Vietnam, a woman says, “Before the program, I was a timid person. Thanks to the program, I and other women raised our voice to the company about working time… we used to work until 9pm, but now we can leave from 5-6pm.”
  • Working conditions are getting better. 93% of workplace issues women raised got resolved. 65% of women say their workplace improved working conditions—like adding fans or breastfeeding rooms for mothers.
  • Women see better opportunities. 59% of women say they now have equal opportunities to get promoted. 90% of women say they now have the skills to meet their future goals, and 85% say they have the confidence to do it.
  • Women are getting more help at home. One woman says, “My husband never listened to me before. He didn't understand and was annoyed that I wanted to come to these training sessions. After explaining a lot to him, he agreed and said, let's see first. Since then, my husband has been very supportive of me."
  • Women have more financial plans. In Indonesia, one woman says, “I have applied the training on financial management into my daily life since I used to run out of money before end of the month. Now I can spare some of my money for saving for my future.”
Bangladesh_Woman in pink sari sewing

How did it happen?

  • Get women support groups. The project used the EKATA model, where women get together in groups for training, support, and building skills and confidence. 99% of women said EKATA is relevant to their lives, and 74% of women participate at least once a month.
  • Women act together. EKATA provides a platform for women to work together—which makes it easier to speak up. In Vietnam, an organizer from one of CARE’s partners says, “They believe they have more confidence, more understanding of the law, belief in the strength of the group and collective. They believe that if there are many people together saying something, it will create stronger results.”
  • Work with men to support women. The project trained male champions on the importance of gender equality and working together. In Indonesia, especially, men said this gender training helped them realize that it is possible to change ideas of social norms and become more equal.
  • Get creative. The project did a lot of work to raise awareness around workers’ rights and passing ILO convention 190—including a social campaign that reached 695,600 people and a talk show where ministry officials, CARE staff, and women garment workers appeared on the same popular TV show to discuss the issue.
  • Focus on supervisors. The project worked with supervisors and local leaders to understand how they could support women in the workplace. Says one supervisor, “I have learned how to behave as a supervisor to the workers at my workplace. I came to know how to work to get better production. I have talked to my workers and discussed how to work better if there is anything they are worried about. I have learned to behave well with my workers. Good behaviour inspires them to work better.”
Cambodia_Clothes factory

COVID-19 impacts
There's still more work to do. COVID-19 and its impacts on the garment sector mean these women are still facing major challenges, even with their new skills and solidarity. In September 2021, in Bangladesh, the average woman worker lost $235 in monthly income. In Vietnam, that was $150, and it was $113 in Indonesia. GBV is on the rise for a lot of women, especially as families lose income. The pressure on jobs and high unemployment gives workers even less negotiating power than they had before the pandemic.

Perhaps most concerning, women are having a harder time connecting and interacting—activities that were so critical to their acting together as a group. Women say that the project helps “give me courage to voice my concerns and know my rights,” and we’ll need to support them continuing on that path even as this specific project closes.
Want to learn more?
Check out the project evaluation.

Vietnam_Women standing in a pyramid formation

Empowering women in economic activities is key to achieving gender equality and boosting the growth of national economies. Women’s economic justice is at the core of some of the most successful initiatives across CARE International.

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