Every day, Shubha Mangala leaves her village in the outskirts of Bangalore, India to travel to the Peenya Industrial zone where she has worked as a layer – marking garments with serial batch numbers – at Laj Exports for the past 11 years, crafting garments for Western brands such as Wrangler, Lee, Guess, and United Colors of Benetton. Shubha Managala is also a peer educator as a part of the factory’s worker health and well-being program implemented by Swasti Health Catalyst, through which she has been trained on a broad range of health topics including nutrition, financial literacy, family planning, and more. Pointing to her bright blue vest that all peer educators wear, Shubha Mangala explains with a smile: “As a peer educator, my key role is to educate my co-employees in the factory.”
When Shubha Mangala was young, her father had an accident that threw the family into a financial crisis after having to pay 11 lakhs – the equivalent of USD $15,000 – to support his new health condition. This accident and the financial hardship it caused spurred Shubha Mangala to begin working so she could earn her own income and protect herself and her family – a husband and son – from her struggles growing up. After working for several years at Laj Exports, Shubha Mangala was chosen as a peer educator as a part of the new worker health and well-being program by the HR and Welfare Officer, who believed she could confidently speak with other workers and support them.
According to Shubha Mangala, the two biggest health challenges facing the female workers in her factory are menstrual health and hygiene, and that women won’t take their own health seriously since they “will not spend time for themselves.” She recalls her mother telling her as a young child to eat certain foods and not skip meals but she didn’t understand why. However, after the training on nutrition she started thinking “yes, this is for my health and for my well-being.” Shubha Managala also explained: “When we started educating [the workers] on nutrition and other aspects of health, their self-realization has increased.” For example, before the training most workers used the waste fabrics available in the factories to manage their menstrual cycles; now, the factory provides sanitary napkins for all employees at the on-site clinic.
Shubha Managla also uses lessons from the trainings outside of her workplace, saying: “After this training, I started taking more leadership roles and responsibilities in my family too.” She described how before she became a peer educator, she used to neglect participating in the decision-making process at home and took the money she earned and silently give it to her family members. Now, she said: “Whatever decision we take, we take collectively. I think I can give the best solution or advice now!” She also shares the health information she receives from the trainings with her friends and neighbors.
Like other peer educators in the factory, Shubha Mangala believes that in her workplace, “we have a good system” due to the implementation of worker well-being programs, committees where women can voice their concerns, and a receptive upper management. However, she recognizes that many other factories don’t have these types of services for their workers, and urges brands to “work with factory management to create that platform for women to share their concerns, including health.”
“I urge brands to work with factory management to create that platform for women to share their concerns, including health.”