Spousal violence causing significant rise in depression amongst female garment workers in Bangladesh, reveals new study

Dhaka, January 15, 2018 — Spousal Violence (SV) is high in Bangladesh (27% during the last 12 months), new study reveals even higher rates, almost double, amongst female garment workers (53%) and of those 40% are reporting symptoms of depression. The UK aid-funded study released today by the icddr,b and BSR’s HERproject reveal business can play a leading role in preventing and addressing SV, by leveraging the workplace as platforms of positive social change.

Almost 60% of female garment workers in Bangladesh have experienced some form of physical or verbal violence at work. The use of violence is normalized as a disciplinary measure for workers because of the hierarchal structure of a garment factory, the high-pressure environment based on meeting production targets, and the social standing of women, particularly of young, migrant female workers. Women’s financial empowerment also has mixed effects on women’s vulnerability to SV. In some situations, women’s financial empowerment can serve to protect them against SV, in others, where women are not supposed to be financially strong, it can have the opposite effect.

This research shows a worker’s savings higher than BDT 50,000 increased her vulnerability to SV several times (three times to physical SV and two times to sexual and economic SV).

Dr. Ruchira Tabassum Naved from icddr,b notes that approximately 40% of the garment workers had depressive symptoms. SV contributed to depression through increased adverse workplace experience, work related stress; and reduced general health, self-esteem and life satisfaction. Adverse workplace experience contributed to depression both directly and through increased work related stress; and reduced general health and life satisfaction.

Until now, the effects of SV and adverse workplace experience on female garment workers’ mental health had not been studied in Bangladesh. This is why the pathways through which experience of SV and adverse workplace experience lead to development of depressive symptomatology have remained unknown. This research redresses this gap in the literature using data from a cross sectional survey of female garment workers (n=800) conducted as baseline survey, which evaluates whether a factory wide intervention, HERrespect, can reduce female garment workers' experiences of SV, and adverse workplace experience. The quasi-experimental study involves four intervention and four control factories.

Thus, the rate of SV and depressive symptomatology is high among female garment workers. As previously found, the experience of violence has an adverse impact on women’s mental health, whether it is SV or adverse workplace experience. The results of the research show that any experience of violence, be it SV and/or adverse workplace experience increases work-related stress which in turn leads to the development of depression which in many cases, reduces productivity. Thus, violence incurs cost at individual, family and the garment sector levels. The findings suggest that programmes to reduce SV and adverse workplace experience and to promote gender sensitivity would improve women’s mental health through enhanced self-esteem and life satisfaction and productivity.

“Business can indeed play a leading role in preventing and addressing SV,” says Marat Yu, Manager, HERproject, “by leveraging the workplace as engines of positive social change. The workplace is a powerful space to shape attitudes and behaviours, as well as create positive role models. Workers – men and women – will be less willing to accept violence at home and in communities if they work in a respectful environment.”

The project; Measuring the Effect of HERrespect: An Intervention Addressing Violence against Female Garment Workers in Four Factories of Bangladesh, is funded by UK aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme The funds are managed by the South African Medical Research Council. HERrespect is a 12-month workplace intervention piloted in four ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh aimed at supporting the prevention of workplace and intimate partner violence.