Menstrual Health and Worker Productivity in the Bangladeshi Garment Sector (Stage One)

Many export oriented manufacturing sectors in developing countries employ disproportionally large numbers of female workers. However, compared to men, female worker’s health, well-being and productivity is affected by the menstrual cycle. This effect is amplified for women in developing countries. Due to lack of knowledge, taboos and stigma, and high costs of products for hygienic menstrual health management, many women still use cloths, paper, or even dirt 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. Factories could curb such high rates through investments in their workforce that make them more attractive as employers and reward loyalty. If such programs reduce turnover and absenteeism and increase productivity sufficiently, they could pay for themselves. Offering their large female workforce help in addressing one of their most salient health concerns, menstrual health, could be one of the most effective of such initiatives.

The research team will run the first randomized evaluation of a factory programme that provides access to free disposable sanitary pads for female workers in a developing country. They will a) study its effects on female workers’ well-being, health and productivity, and b) seek to disentangle the role of different constraints to the more widespread adoption of such menstrual health management products: lack of information, financial constraints, accessibility, and stigma or taboos.

The Bangladeshi garment sector is an ideal setting for our study: it is the second largest in the world with around 4,000 factories, employing roughly 4M workers, of which 80% are female. There is now an active discussion among various stakeholders in the Bangladeshi garment industry on improving menstrual health for its large female workforce. Finding from this project will therefore inform policies and initiatives by both local governments and the international development community.

Authors

Andreas Menzel

CERGE-EI

Kristina Czura

University of Munich

Martina Miotto

University of Warwick