- While women are overwhelmingly represented in the food production and the agricultural supply chain, the same cannot be said for their gains from the sector in general.
- Prior to the rise of unionism and the entry of certification schemes such as Fairtrade, deep-seated inequalities against women have particularly plagued the flower sector.
According to the United Nations (2021), women around the world make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural workforce in rural communities.
In East Africa, the scenario is no different with women forming over 60 percent of the workforce driving the flower sector and another majority involved in farming activities behind the production of cash crops such as tea and coffee among other staple food items.
While women are overwhelmingly represented in the food production and the agricultural supply chain, the same cannot be said for their gains from the sector in general.
A myriad of barriers, including limited access to resources such as land, credit, inputs, information, and training, reinforce the historical patterns of female disempowerment.
Prior to the rise of unionism and the entry of certification schemes such as Fairtrade, deep-seated inequalities against women have particularly plagued the flower sector.
Low pay and unfavorable working conditions such as inflexible work policies especially affect the livelihoods of young mothers’ livelihoods who have to take breaks to tend to their hungry or ill infants.
In sub-sectors such as tea and coffee, women continue to provide much of the needed farm labor only for the proceeds to end up in the hands of their spouses who make decisions on the use of household incomes. This leaves many women reliant on their spouses.
Despite this, a deeper look at the agricultural sector as the world continues to mark Women’s History Month shows that some remarkable improvements have taken place.
In Fairtrade Africa’s work with actors in the flower, tea and coffee sub-sectors over the years, for example, we have witnessed employers and male-led households take deliberate steps to transform the experience of women as agricultural workers.
Take Kabngetuny ‘and Kapyikai farmers’ cooperative societies in Rift Valley, for instance. The two Fairtrade certified coffee-producing societies, between 2017 and 2018 embarked on a project dubbed Women in Coffee.
This saw men who are traditionally the land and coffee bush owners each transfer 300 bushes to their wives, enabling them to earn an independent income for the first time.
Besides signing up as members of their respective societies where they deliver cherry, these women have today have their own brand of processed coffee called Zawadi Coffee.
These cooperatives, found in rural Kenya, show that with the right mindset and attitude, women’s inclusion and empowerment is achievable even in environments where cultural stereotypes and gender norms are rife.
Flower farms too have not been left behind as they continue to make great examples of inclusive and empowering workspaces for women.
Many of them, particularly those operating under Fairtrade terms such as Shalimar Flowers, Flamingo Horticulture, Wildfire Flowers, and Valentines Growers in Kenya as well as the likes of Sher Ethiopia, Ziway Roses, and Herburg Roses in Ethiopia have in recent years adopted gender policies and instituted gender committees to oversee their implementation.
Through these policies, female workers have access to mechanisms to report any cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and have them resolved in a fair and transparent way. Female flower farm workers have also received training to take up managerial roles in farm operations.
Similarly, these flower farms, have taken to establishing farm-based daycare centers, providing mothers with the much-needed relief from having to worry about their infants while at work.
This has also impacted their incomes positively seeing that fewer female workers no longer have to forgo their remuneration due to breastfeeding breaks sought within working hours.
Incremental improvement continues to be witnessed in the agricultural sector, with farmers and agribusiness owners leading the way in building a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive and more rewarding and fulfilling for female agricultural workers.
However, many more women remain on the sideline. There is much more work to do to bring about true gender equality. As we highlight the persistent challenges and at the same time celebrate progress in driving gender inclusion this month, we must do so with a renewed commitment to challenge the gender gap, enabling women to stake their claim and succeed on their own terms.
As various players in the agricultural sector have shown, this is achievable. Let us endeavor to do more for women from all fronts, including the agricultural sector.
Pedo is Head of Region, Fairtrade Africa – Eastern and Central Africa Network