Susheela is a 36-year-old supervisor at Shell Apparels in Bangalore, India a garment manufacturer that supplies to brands like United Colors of Benetton, Wrangler, Pepe Jeans, and Aeropostale. After losing her husband nine years ago and becoming a single mother, Susheela joined Shell Apparels as a tailor to support her family. In 2013, she received the opportunity to be a part of Walmart’s Women in Factories (WiF) Foundation training program, was then selected for the Advanced WiF training, and in 2014 was selected to attend the training of trainers program where she learned critical life skills on topics such as family planning, nutrition, financial management, public speaking and more. Following the programs, the factory management at Shell Apparels noticed a marked improvement in her work and she was promoted to a supervisor and a life skills trainer. In this role, Susheela is responsible for sharing health information with other female workers in the factory. Susheela has now provided life skills training to more than 1,500 workers and proudly said: “I am fondly referred to as Dr. Susheela because of the skills that I have as a trainer and my ability to assist my peers who are in need.”
Many of Susheela’s colleagues face different health challenges, the majority of which are menstrual hygiene related, causing increased employee absenteeism and decreased productivity. For example, one of Susheela’s co-workers was experiencing severe cramps during their menstrual cycle and often missed work, becoming so unproductive that Susheela noticed and decided to intervene. She helped this worker practice proper menstrual hygiene by using sanitary napkins instead of the waste materials found on the factory floor and going to the doctor whenever she needed pain medication for menstrual cramps. Soon after, the woman reported feeling healthier, happier, and more motivated to carry out her daily tasks. Another worker in Susheela’s factory was screened and found positive for cervical lumps. She was hesitant to have them removed since she didn’t think the condition was very serious. However, after Susheela counseled her on the importance of preventative health care, the colleague decided to undergo the procedure.
Susheela also uses her health and life skills training to help family and friends outside of the factory. Susheela’s sister-in-law was keen to undergo a tubectomy but was not able to since her husband -- Susheela’s brother -- wanted to keep trying for a son. When she heard this, Susheela was able to successfully convince her brother that girls and boys are equally capable and of equal value, which led to her sister-in-law having a tubectomy with the support of her husband.
After spending six years at Shells Apparels, Susheela can now speak to the importance of these trainings for the factory workers, saying that “life skills programs help to build a woman’s confidence and give them the skills to manage their life. It improves their awareness about health issues, and access to products and services which can improve the quality of their life.” Although she is grateful that Shells Apparels has implemented a worker health and well-being program for its employees, she is aware that many other workers across the country and the world don’t have access to the kind of health information and services she and other workers at her factory enjoy. Her wish is that “there should be a Dr. Susheela like me in every factory and such programs should reach the millions of workers who work in supply chains.”