Last week I had the opportunity to visit with many of the women working in the factories in both India and Bangladesh who are taking part in our Women in Factories Training Program. As I talked to the women, I was surprised at the profound effect the foundational training had already had on their lives.
The women I talked with all spoke about how the training helped them believe in their abilities to make decisions for themselves for the first time. They were confident enough now to travel around the city without an escort, to start saving money for themselves and their futures and to plan for new dreams they never thought were possible.
It might be hard to understand how even just having the confidence to talk to a husband or supervisor at work about a problem can change a woman’s life. But after seeing the extremely difficult circumstances the women came from, I now realize how this new self-confidence makes all the difference.
The women often serve as breadwinners for their families; generally they have come from villages and have very little education. Many live in housing without basic sanitation and due to cultural constraints cannot travel freely between cities. We visited the slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where houses made of corrugated metal are built on stilts above trash-filled marshes, and they shift as you walk along the bamboo bridges that connect them. Is it any wonder that for a woman coming from these harsh environments, enabling her to understand her abilities and strengths can change her idea of what her future can be?
One woman in particular stood out to me. I met Padma while in India visiting a factory in Bangalore. As we talked she told me how she joined the factory at the age of 19, two months after marrying her husband. Her husband is an alcoholic and she works in order to support herself and her son.
Initially Padma didn’t want to attend the training because she thought it would take unnecessary time out of her workday, but after starting the training she talked about how glad she was that she’d come. She talked about learning communication and coping skills and how she now realized that she had the ability to change her situation. Before, she told me, when she came home there were always arguments with her husband and she was very unhappy. After the training, she started using her new communication skills to talk with him. She said that she made more progress helping her husband in the 20 days following the training than she had in the entire 10 years they’d been married. Padma said that her dream was now to have a happy family, and she felt she could achieve it because of the training Walmart had provided.
Other women told me that they also had new dreams for their lives. One mentioned that she was trying to go back to school and finish her education, another talked about starting the process to become a policewoman, and all the women I spoke to in Bangladesh said that they now had hope that they could become line supervisors and eventually managers in their factories.
It wasn’t just the women in the factories who were passionate about the training program. Factory owners, management and human resources teams that I spoke with were also excited to share their progress with me and talk about why this program was making a difference, not only in the women’s lives, but also for the factories and communities.
The purpose of this program is to truly impact and empower the women working in the factories and give them tools to achieve greater success at their jobs and live happier lives. This passion for empowering women has translated to a program which truly seeks to provide the women working in the factories with the knowledge and skills necessary to create better futures for themselves and their families.