Photo story: How to be a healthy garment worker in Cambodia

Maly at her sewing machine in the garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

CARE’s campaign to end harassment and abuse in the workplace is not all we are doing to support women workers across the world. Our Healthy Women, Healthy Workplace project, supported by GSK as part of the Frontline Health Worker Programme, is working to bring better health services to garment factory workers in Cambodia.

Portrait of Maly in Cambodia

Maly (above) lives with her husband, her brother in law and his wife in a room near the garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she works.

Two women garment factory workers in Cambodia

Maly works as a line leader at the factory. Her work days tend to be long: she usually spends 8 to 11 hours at the factory. As she is expecting her second child, she needs to take good care of herself.

Garment factory in Cambodia

There are around 700,000 garment factory workers in Cambodia, of whom approximately 85% are women. Many of these workers are female migrants in the 18-30 age group with low levels of education, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, harassment, and abuse. 

CARE’s research has shown that almost half of female garment factory workers report being sexually active, but lack information about and access to modern contraception, and reproductive and maternal health services.

Women at training session in Cambodia

CARE’s Healthy Women, Healthy Workplace project was set up to help garment factory workers like Maly. The project runs information sessions on contraception (above) and reproductive health, to enable women to make informed health decisions.

Maly speaking at a training session

“Before I joined CARE’s training, I didn’t know anything about contraceptive methods, that’s why I got pregnant twice!” says Maly. “But now, after I have my second baby, I will start protecting myself.”

Maly outside factory health centre

Maly’s work days can get long and her workplace often gets very hot during the dry season in Cambodia. The factory provides a health centre for workers, which she can visit if she feels unwell. “Sometimes I feel very heavy and exhausted”, she says. “The nurse advices me to eat better, take calcium and get regular check-ups at the health centre.”

Maly and nurse Chanthy in factory health centre

Chanthy Deep (above right) has been a nurse at a garment factory for over eight years. She says that the training from CARE has helped her give better advice to workers on topics such as nutrition and healthy behaviour during pregnancy.

“They are all like my own children!” says Chanthy. “I like to advise them properly, tell them how to eat better and how to look after themselves; what to do if they miss their period; and all those things that you do as a mother.”

Maly with colleagues at her workstation

Having better health support at the factory has helped Maly a lot. “It’s great to have a nurse at the factory I can talk to,” she says. “I can ask for her advice. Like, I asked her if it was true that if you drank wine during pregnancy, the baby would have beautiful skin. She told me it was a lie and that I should never do it!”

Maly and Chanthy looking at a health poster

“The nurse is so much better now thanks to the training with CARE”, she says. “She also have posters and other materials that she uses to teach me about nutrition and other things, and I can even take those home!”

Maly being served at a food stall

Eating well is very important for Maly (above right) and her baby. Lack of nutrition is often cited as a key contributing factor to the “fainting spells” common in Cambodian factories – and nutritional deficiencies (both quality and quantity) are all the more dangerous for pregnant women. CARE’s project is addressing this through its Food Vendor Programme which is helping provide healthier food options for women like Maly outside their workplace.

Veasna and Sydney at their food stall

This food stall is run by Veasna (above left) and Sydney (above right), and Veasna’s two brothers. Through the CARE programme, they are learning how to improve the quality of their food through better hygiene practices and more nutritious ingredients. They say that thanks to the programme, their food is healthier, their stall is more competitive, and it shows in their sales. They say: “Now that we have joined CARE’s training, the factory workers know our food is safer, and of good quality.”

Portrait of Sydney, pregnant woman in Cambodia

Sydney also works at a garment factory – and is also pregnant and expecting her second child. So she really appreciates the comprehensive approach taken by the programme. “I know that now I’m pregnant, I have to look after myself better,” she says.

The Healthy Women, Healthy Workplace project is funded by GlaxoSmithKline as part of the GSK-CARE Frontline Health Worker Programme

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