Cambodia - August 2008
In Cambodia, the rise of the garment industry has led to an influx of young women from rural areas seeking work in cities. This mass migration is leading to health challenges, as these woman become more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Vulnerability is also linked to a lack of knowledge about sexual health issues, HIV transmission and how to seek appropriate health services.
From 2003 to 2007, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the US Department of Labor carried out an HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme targeting female workers in garment factories. The programme used peer education approach to help young women increase their awareness about health and HIV and AIDS issues so that they could reduce vulnerabilities and stigma and discrimination against HIV+ people in the workplace. The programme also developed information, education and communication materials (IEC) to promote positive health seeking behavior. The most challenging aspect was developing educational materials for the women’s male sex partners to incite them to would use condoms.
The programme was a success, raising female workers’ awareness about HIV and increasing their health-seeking behaviour. Key to this result was the application of a “gender lens” in the development of IEC materials. The programme decreased stigma associated with women carrying condoms through the “Smart girls carry condoms” campaign and challenged men to use condoms with the message “A good husband protects the health of his family”. The main lesson is that gender-specific HIV messages at the workplace produce results.
Now that peer trainers are in place and appropriate messages are reaching (primarily single) women workers, work needs to continue to establish gender-appropriate HIV workplace policies. Because cases of HIV transmission are on the rise amongst married women in Cambodia (and in neighbouring Thailand), one of the most significant challenges facing workplaces is how to reach out to married women with appropriate, effective HIV prevention messages.
Chuong Por, HIV and AIDS Focal Point for Cambodia, ILO, firstname.lastname@example.org