Despite being a majority of flower farm laborers, women remain at the lower echelons of job positions. The Women’s Empowerment Program at Hivos notes “majority of women still work in informal jobs, under poor working conditions and without earning a living wage”.This is the kind of work done by women in flower farms that does not require much of the academic angle making them the base of the lowest levels. Barely making a living wage leaves the women vulnerable as they live from hand to mouth and can never dream of holding management or decision making positions within the farms.
The low wages also places them in desperate positions that leave them at risk of challenges that include women’s and human rights violations as well as sexual harassment and assault. However, with a need for gender equality and equity prevailing for every work place, flower farms have been forced to divert their attention to issues and concerns that affect the female worker. With other partners, the Women@Work Campaign has set forth an agenda that is making flower farms rethink the status of their workers.
There is a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel with flower farms setting up gender committees to address challenges of violations and discrimination. Evelyne Kagia, a project officer for the Women@Work Campaign with Haki Mashinani says: “With certification bodies in place, it’s a requirement for flower farms to have committees that address workers’ issues and gender committees is one of them.”
She explains: “The gender committee will address issues and concerns with cases that have a gender-related angle being reported to the chairman who will then sit with members to discuss the matter. In Kenya, there are ten social certification standards that have a focus on the flower sector. These address concerns within the sector and gender is one of them.
The gender committees initiative was initiated as a move to enable issues and concerns be addressed at ‘home’ and only go external if the matter at hand is beyond the mandate of the committee or management. Explains Kagia: “Gender committees only arbitrate on issues that can be handled at the ‘local’ (within the farm) level. This is to help flower farm workers to open up because they are talking to colleagues who are known to them. They are also expected to come up with home grown solutions to the issues.”
By allowing gender committees to be established, flower farms are also keen on creating an enabling environment for transparency, confidence building and trust to thrive. With this, the end goal is to have an empowered population of women workers who are aware and knowledgeable of their rights and especially the fact that if they raise a concern, it is addressed within the shortest time possible and justifiably.
“The management works hand in hand with the gender committees to ensure that every issue raised is addressed and justice is served to the victim no matter their position within the farms,” explains Kagia.
“While the victim will report their case to the chair of the Gender Committee, if it’s too hard for them to handle the case is referred to the management. However, when a case is too strong for the management, then the police are called in,” reiterates Kagia. She adds: “Cases of gross violations such as rape cannot be handled within the farm as they are criminal and the police must be involved.”
However, even as the cases are handled by the gender committees, it’s not in isolation of the management and they must collaborate to address all matters within the flower farms that have been brought to their attention.
The gender committees are meant to empower both male and female workers but more so the women who are disproportionately affected by the challenges and concerns. If a woman worker is given a conducive environment, she gains confidence within the work place and trust of the employer. She may want to go back to school or college and get credentials that will enable her be at a better paying position. In addition to the education, the women will gain extra skills including knowledge of their rights and ability to negotiate for better terms of service without harboring fears of losing their jobs.
Kagia says there are many benefits to women with the establishment of the gender committees. “They are able to open up and not intimidated when a violation happens. The gender committees are easily accessible and this has helped in building women’s confidence at the work place.”
With organizations like Haki Mashinani, the flower farm workers undergo capacity building on legal issues. They also get to know their sexual, human and gender based rights. The innovation of establishing committees that are able to ensure gender and sexual harassment policies are implemented remains the biggest benefit to flower farm workers.