How is Walmart enacting key role in empowering Indian women workers

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Supported by Walmart Foundation and implemented in India by Swasti Health Catalyst, ‘Women in Factories’ (WiF) is an intervention in factory set-up, with a focus on empowering women workers using life skills training approach. The programme is being implemented in 5 countries and is led by Swasti Health Catalyst in India. So far in India under this initiative, more than 26,000 workers, nearly 80 per cent from garment factories alone (21,885 women and 4,137 men) have been trained in 34 factories since 2011. These factories are situated in Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, and the Union Territory of Daman. The skills covered under the training are related to communication, hygiene, reproductive health, occupational health and safety, gender sensitivity and identifying personal strengths. It has two training approaches: the foundational training includes 15 hours of training on fundamental skills that enable women to improve their lives both at home and in the workplace. The advanced training includes 80 hours of training focused on enhancing life skills, financial literacy, gender and equity at home and in the workplace, and leadership.

“The Walmart Foundation’s commitment to economically empowering women through a collaborative approach is noteworthy and we appreciate the support provided to Swasti by Walmart Foundation to successfully implement this programme in India. At Swasti, we believe that we can contribute to larger development goals through an empowerment approach and particularly by empowerment of women to help them to make right choices and to lead healthy lives. This programme is helping to contribute to our mission and we are extremely grateful to be part of this global effort by the Walmart Foundation,” said Joseph Julian, Director, Swasti Health Catalyst. He further told Apparel Resources that the major challenge regarding training was timely scheduling of training and its completion for workers due to their busy production schedule, but they successfully managed to complete the trainings as planned with mutual coordination with the suppliers.

Highlighting progress among the women workers through the training, recently Swasti and Walmart Foundation organized a national conference on ‘Women in Factories’ in which top apparel exporters, like Anant Ahuja, Director, Shahi Exports and Co-Founder & CEO, Good Business Lab; Krish Iyer, CEO, Walmart India and representatives from some export houses also participated. It was observed that women’s empowerment work in factories faces two challenges – time and intent. Some women workers also shared their experience in the conference. Azhageswari, working as a tailor with Cradle Clothing, Tirupur shared how the training helped in keeping her abusive husband away. Sharanya from Asian Fabrics underwent the training, and using the learning was able to convince 20 families to build toilets in their houses.

Appreciating Swasti team for its flexibility Vasudha Vasuki, MD, Shell Apparels and an active member in AWAKE (Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka) was of the opinion that due to such initiatives, they are more than a supplier for Walmart. “Avani Bhadra from Welspun India, who had undergone the advance training, shared that these helped more than 7,000 women, and said: “With this training, I know today that even if you don’t complete school, you can be a leader.”

Apart from this particular WiF initiative, Swasti had earlier developed and implemented the P.A.C.E. program in partnership with Gap Inc. Similarly Swasti is also partnering with other leading brands in the apparel sector like Levi’s, M&S, Inditex, Debenhams, Primark, zLabels, Motorola, C&A, H&M and international non-profit organizations like BSR, etc., to promote the well-being of the workers through intervention related to life skills, health, social protection, gender relationship, financial inclusion, etc.

In partnership with BSR and other leading brands, Swasti implemented the ‘HERrespect, HERFinance and HERHealth’ programmes in several factories in Northern and Southern India and these programmes are helping to empower the women workers. Orient Craft (OC) implemented the HER programme, in partnership with Swasti. Shivani Bhardwaj, Manager, HR, CSR and Compliance, OC shared, “We have seen good improvement in the women workers who got training and guidance under these sustainable initiatives. Swasti team is doing a good job.” Brands like ANN INC., Talbots, M&S and AEO supported OC factories for such initiatives.