By Faith Muiruri, journalist for the Women@Work Campaign partner African Woman and Child Feature Service.
Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) has rolled out an ambitious mentorship guide that seeks to push for gender responsive policies and practices in the cut flower industry.
The tool is to be tested in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda and targets women in the flower farms.
AMwA, a partner in the Women@Work Campaign, has roped in FEMNET (Kenya) and the Rwanda Women Network, all partners in the campaign implementing the women leadership program. The partners will test the tool in their respective countries and give feedback.
In Uganda, AMwA is working with representatives from Rosebud, Ugarose and Royal Van Zanten flower farms.
Already the tool has been tested and the ripple effect is remarkable with beneficiaries taking the lead as peer educators to mentor others in the targeted farms.
According to Leah Eryenyu, who is a Research, Advocacy and Movement Building Manager at Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), the mentorship guide provides a framework to build the capacities of women in the farm to demand for their rights.
“We are encouraging beneficiaries to use the mentorship guide as an important strategy to cascade the training to the other farm workers and to build a strong movement premised on solidarity and sisterhood.”
Leah Eryenyu, Reasearch, Advocacy and Movement Building Manager at Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)
This, she says has helped to build the capacities of the women and deepen their leadership skills. “We are seeing women in the flower farms coming together to build solidarity. Most of these women have formed groups at the farm level to sensitize their colleagues on labor rights, feminist theory and the saving culture.”
“These women meet on a weekly basis to share knowledge and experiences and create a bond that in turn helps them to respond to labor issues affecting them.”
She says that collective action is credibly important. “It means building trust. If one is sexually harassed, all the other women will rally behind the affected person because they have already formed their little group and have this bond. They will feel compelled to push for the rights of the other person.”
The mentoring guide is complementary to the feminist and leadership training. “It helps to enhance the knowledge acquired during training. Beneficiaries of the training are able to pass on that knowledge to their peers in the work place in a very friendly and informal manner.”
The guide has been simplified and workers can use it as a companion to help them pass knowledge.
“Workers who have attended the training can look for five to ten women and say for the next six months we are going to get knowledge from this tool.”
The mentorship guide embraces a conversational approach in addressing labor rights, policies and power relations within the farm. “Workers can meet over lunch breaks to converse around feminism and analyze power relations within their homes and at the workplace. This is meant to help them understand and tackle abuse of power at both levels.”
This according to Eryenyu helps to strengthen the relationships amongst the workers. “The more you meet, the more you find a common ground and the more you are likely to build solidarity. When an issue does not work out, you more likely to challenge it.”
The mentorship guide draws from the modules discussed during the leadership training. “The modules focus on the feminist theory which talks about imbalances in power, gender issues and culture and how they have been used to perpetuate violations and how to break them.”
The modules also touch on labor rights. “What are my rights as a worker and what should I look out for in an employment contract.”
In addition, the module has a section on savings. “Is there any merit in saving, do we save, how do we strengthen our saving culture,” adds Eryenyu during an interview with the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWCFS).
Other highlights from the module include movement building. “How do we collectively respond to human rights violations at the farm level? It is largely drawing on topics in the curriculum but adopting a conversational style as opposed to instruction. We realized a formal mentorship process was unrealistic in the farm.”
She is upbeat that the module will go a long way in resolving a myriad challenges facing women working in the farms.
Eryenyu says that the mentorship guide follows a baseline survey in the farms which revealed that women have been left out on key issues. “Most policies in farms are not gender sensitive. Some farms pay well but they don’t have day care centers, there is no maternity leave policy and if granted, it is abused and workers are hardly paid. There are policies in the farm that are blind to the unique needs that women have in terms of their reproductive functions and vulnerabilities such as high incidences of sexual harassment.”
The mentorship guide will for instance provide direction on what does your policy say specifically about sexual harassment? Is there a reporting line or referral pathway? Is there any action after a report is made, is there a specific way sexual harassment against women is treated, is the company conscious about promotions for women.
“These are issues that companies and employees are not alive to and which in most cases lead to discrimination.”