THE reproductive health of female workers appears to be one of the less focused issues in the apparel sector where labour rights are reported to be rampantly violated. A survey that the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling and the Microfinance Opportunities conducted on the family planning and menstrual health of female apparel workers aged 19–40 years shows that about 7 per cent of the workers miss menstrual period because of malnutrition and a high level of physical and mental stress. The survey that interviewed 886 female workers in Dhaka, Chattogram, Gazipur and Narayanganj finds that 5 per cent of workers face missed menstrual period for an unwise contraception. This suggests a worrying state of the reproductive health of female workers who constitute the main work force in the sector. The study also says that even though 71 per cent of workers employ family planning strategies, more than the national average of 61, reproductive health of workers is caught in long work hours, inadequate rest and holidays, and an unhealthy working condition. An adverse working condition has also been named as a risk factor for diseases in the workers.
The workers are also reported to be more vulnerable than women in general or women working in other sectors to communicable diseases, pregnancy complications, reproductive infection, an inappropriate use of birth control devices, etc. A Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation study earlier found that there was a lack of awareness of reproductive health care among female apparel workers while factories mostly do not offer reproductive health care. A study by a non-governmental organisation based in the Netherlands shows that female apparel workers in Bangladesh have a relatively high knowledge of most short-acting contraceptive methods, yet rates of unwanted pregnancy and menstrual regulation are high. Many workers are reported to take recourse to methods and treatment that are injurious to their health because of financial constraints and in the absence of factory-based health support. Female workers are also often denied maternity and childcare rights that they are legally entitled to. This adverse condition of workers badly affects their lives as well as their productivity for which the apparel sector eventually suffers.
The government must, therefore, investigate the matter and see whether there is enough healthcare support in the factories. The government must also ensure that female workers get all health and maternity benefits that they are entitled to. The authorities concerned and the apparel manufacturers and exporters’ association must also ensure that work hours and working condition in factories do not put workers under stress.
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