A pilot project is being set up in one of Egypt's garment factories to demonstrate the improvements in productivity and absenteeism that can be achieved if women are given better access to information on health issues.

The initiative is part of a wider scheme being rolled out across the country's clothing plants to educate women workers on general health issues.

Organised by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in partnership with Levi Strauss & Co and the Levi Strauss Foundation, the HERproject will be introduced to six factories in Cairo, Ismailia, Giza, and Port Said.

Egyptian exports of textiles and ready-made garments to the US have skyrocketed since 2004, and the country is becoming a critical sourcing destination for many firms.

These growing factories employ thousands of women - many of whom are foreign contract workers from South Asian countries who often lack access to Egyptian public health services.

These women lack general and reproductive health awareness, are at risk for disease, and do not possess the knowledge to adequately protect themselves or their children.

Chad Bolick, director of CSR strategy at BSR, believes that for companies who are eager to build strong relationships with new suppliers in Egypt, the HERproject "can demonstrate the return on investment from women's health programs with factory management."

To demonstrate the business case for engagement in women's health issues at the factory level, Levi Strauss & Co will provide additional support for an intensive return-on-investment (ROI) study in one target factory.

The study aims to demonstrate that investment in factory-based women's health programs can improve worker-management relations, increase productivity, and reduce turnover and health-related absenteeism.

According to a 2007 study conducted by ESD, factories reaped a return of US$3 for every US$1 invested in women's health training and services.

The Egypt project will begin in early 2009, and results are expected in mid-2010.