This article forms part of a series we are featuring on the Women’s Economic Empowerment Challenge over the course of the summer while the UN High Level Panel continues work on its first report, due to be published in September 2016. Each article in the series will showcase an example of how companies are supporting and enabling women’s economic empowerment through their core business.
INTRODUCTION: Workers around the world need and want a better standard of living, more respect and a better life for their children. Growth in international supply chains has created huge economic opportunities for workers, but it takes more than access to work to meet workers’ needs. It takes a confident, knowledgeable and empowered worker who can take control of their life and make positive changes for themselves, their families, communities and employers. Empowered workers are more engaged in their work, develop better skills, access promotion and deliver more for their employer. A clear win:win for business and worker.
UP! is a community based training programme, delivered by Impactt and Awaj Foundation, and supported by C&A Foundation that aims to empower and improve the lives of workers in the Bangladesh RMG sector through training in essential life-skills, including financial management, health and leadership. The project reached over 6,000 workers in the first stage and showed strong, mutually reinforcing results in all areas. Women who had been through the training reported a significant improvement in their ability to manage money, with 99% feeling more able to have control over their family finances. Improved workplace relations enabled 48% more workers to claim attendance bonuses by the end of the training, a matter further supported by a 37% reduction in reported ailments through an improved approach to general healthcare.
FINANCIAL, LEADERSHIP AND HEALTH
Part of the unique value of UP! lies in the holistic approach taken to encouraging positive and sustainable changes in women’s lives. While a standalone financial training could and would produce results, the complementary nature of leadership and health modules ensures improvements in financial empowerment are both more significant and more sustainable.
Finance and Leadership
At the beginning of the programme, a large number of women reported lack of control over and confidence in financial decisions. The negotiation and bargaining skills developed through the UP! leadership component were essential to their ability to gain control over family and individual finances, with many women opening their own, individual savings accounts for the first time. Female workers explained that they particularly enjoyed the role play between husband and wife in the leadership training and picked up very strongly on how changing tone and approach can influence financial control and outcomes.
Finance and Health
Workers’ increased awareness of how to manage their health and lifestyles positively reinforced many of the messages conveyed in the financial training. By encouraging workers to seek fresher, healthier, vegetable and pulse based diets, many women were able to make significant savings in their grocery bills. Emphasising the need for improved sleep, movement and hydration also helped workers reduce their absenteeism at work. This allowed a greater number of workers to collect attendance bonuses and improve their financial situation.
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