Menstrual Health and Worker Productivity in the Bangladeshi Garment Sector

This project looks at the effect of providing free sanitary pads to female garment workers in Bangladesh on worker health, well-being, absenteeism and productivity.

Many export oriented manufacturing sectors in developing countries employ disproportionally large numbers of female workers. However, their health, well-being and productivity is affected by the menstrual cycle. Due to lack of knowledge, taboos, and high costs of products for hygienic menstrual health management (MHM), many women still use old cloths or paper during their period, with potentially severe consequences: infections, infertility, disability, school and work absenteeism and related human capital loss. Meanwhile, high worker absenteeism and turnover rates have been identified as one of the main inhibitors of firm productivity growth in developing countries. Offering the female workforce help in addressing one of their most salient health concerns, i.e. menstrual health, could be an extremely effective investment that makes the employer more attractive and rewards loyalty. If such programs reduce turnover and absenteeism and increase productivity sufficiently, they could pay for themselves.

This project, which is a scale-up of ERG 5549, consists in three extensions to the existing ERG. Firstly, a fully cross-randomized 2x2 design will allow the researchers to disentangle the effects of information on MHM from the effect of free distribution of sanitary pads. Rather than performing just a pilot of the information intervention, this will be conducted with 1,000 workers (with 2,000 workers being the final sample). Secondly, the information intervention will be split into two treatment arms, to address the social phenomenon of taboo and how it affects concepts like knowledge acquisition and technology adoption.  Thirdly, a detailed baseline survey of 1,000 workers on subjective assessments of the work environment and actual use of sanitary products will be performed.

There is an active discussion among various stakeholders in the Bangladeshi garment industry on improving menstrual health for its large female workforce, as exemplified by a prominent recent round table event on this topic. Several NGOs have started initiatives to improve access to hygienic menstrual health products in garment factories. However, none of these initiatives collaborates with academic researchers for rigorous impact evaluations. This project, through a collaboration with SNV - one of the major players in this sector - will be the first one to evaluate their information campaigns on MHM.