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By Faith Muiruri, working for the Women@Work Campaign partner African Woman and Child Feature Service.

More than four years ago, Hivos embarked on a major campaign to address and improve the working conditions of women working on the horticultural value chain: the Women@Work Campaign. At that time, women in this value chain were asking for help, facing a number of human rights violations.  But in 2020, faces of happiness and stories of success in improving their welfare can be told.

This is the reason why the Women@Work Campaign partners, who are behind a series of initiatives aimed at addressing the plight of these women, converged in Zimbabwe in February to take stock on the gains made under the Campaign and explore opportunities for future engagements. The partners, drawn from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, affirmed the need to use both dialogue and dissent strategies to help secure the gains made so far. The majority of the participants endorsed the dialogue approach, which they said have helped them to make inroads in the farms and push for the plight of women workers within these farms. The partners agreed to leverage on existing power by shifting the dialogue approach from being a women farmers’ issue to a national issue that will push policy makers to action. The dissent strategy will complement this approach, with focus now shifting to an evidence-based approach backed by surveys and reports.

Successes in Kenya

During the meeting, representatives from Kenya shared a number of achievements under the Campaign. Key among them is the recruitment of women workers as paralegals. Their brief is to report and monitor cases of violations, interventions in improving social certification, workers’ growing confidence and trust in the processes, and investigations in cases of sexual harassment.

Eunice Waweru

According to Eunice Waweru, who is the coordinator at Worker’s Rights Watch, Kenya experienced increased reporting of sexual harassment cases as more farms are now willing to support the survivors. “Most of these farms adopted the sexual harassment policy and allowed us to train workers in the farms.” Furthermore, the incorporation of the relevant sexual harassment indicators into the Kenya Flower Council’s standards has helped to strengthen policies at the farm level. This works well as the farms are under pressure to comply with certification and policies.

Partners cited cases where women workers were influencing change at the farm level. “We now have more women embracing leadership positions, joining unions, and influencing change.” In addition, women workers have become more courageous and are more willing to share their experiences in the media and on other platforms. The Campaign also saw workers being invited to be part of compliance and conformity committees by government regulators.

The use of both mainstream and social media to advocate for the ratification of the ILO Convention 190 was also prominent. Other notable achievements cited during the session included a process by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to push the government to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights and apply gender lenses.

A common voice

It was agreed that partners work as team and share a common voice when it comes to highlighting issues and raising concerns within the flower farms. “As partners, we can develop a joint communication strategy and issue joint press statements to mark Labor Day celebrations slated for May 1st. This will enable us to highlight key labor issues and concerns across sectors,” said Davies Malombe, the Deputy Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Others who spoke proposed the hosting of parallel meetings to coincide with the national events that address labor rights. “This will mainly focus on the mismatch between legislation, organizational policy and reality.” They also listed policy advocacy, engagement at national and international level and media advocacy among key components in driving the campaign in the future.

Women in leadership

Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia partners took credit for creating a strong women worker’s movement in their respective countries with the number of women in leadership positions increasing. “More women in the farms benefited from the improvement of labor laws on maternity leave, breastfeeding time and child care,” said Katusime Kafanabo of the Tanzania Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (TPAWU).

The Rwanda Women’s Network was instrumental in ensuring aggrieved women workers are able to access free legal services. Further strides have been made in influencing the government to adopt the ILO Convention 190 in Rwanda. “A panel of CSOs and government representatives that participated at the High-Level Political Forum 2019 presented recommendations on how Rwanda will take forward the ILO Convention on Ending Violence and Harassment at the Workplace,” said Andrew Ndahiro, Program Manager with Rwanda Women Network.

Similar success stories were recorded in Uganda with partners citing the twinning of schools with flower farms to help create safe spaces for women through the blooming schools and work places initiative. FIDA-Uganda cited the use of paralegals to sensitize workers on their rights and resolve disputes as a key gain in the campaign. They also singled out the ongoing process to amend labor and employment laws and advocacy on the Minimum Wage Bill among areas that partners can leverage on.

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, positive strides are also recorded. Partners have helped in the establishment of women structures at the farm level, which serve to not only build a strong movement for the same women but enable them to take up issues directly affecting them at the workplace.

In Zimbabwe, partners provided insights into how they were able to push for the election of a first time female Vice President in the trade union since its formation in 1982. They also played a key role in negotiating for lighter duties for pregnant women, installation of ablution facilities and the inclusion of more women in the worker’s committees at farm level.  They are now working to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. According to Tambudzai Madzimure, the Project Manager at Hivos Southern Africa in Harare, there is evidence from the 2019 Mini Baseline Survey in the Agricultural, Tourism and Mining Sector that the NAP has been premised on gender and multiple collective bargaining agreements that were signed under the Women@Work Campaign.

On their part, Malawi and Zambia highlighted the creation of women committees to report sexual harassment as key success. Zambia cited the use of sports to mobilize communities to raise awareness on women’s rights. The group also noted that farms now share policies with staff and mechanisms to address workers grievances have been put in place. Zambia revealed that peer educators and gender committees were being led by women. The peer educators promote health issues, occupational health safety, decent working conditions such as negotiating fair labor practices and conducting monthly mobile clinic services to farms, once a month.

Zambia partners initiated the Utafiti Sera, a platform for dialogue among government, trade unions, farmers, and CSOs who share experiences on decent work for women. In both Malawi and Zambia, trade unions are actively involved in inspection of farms to uphold decent work among women. Under capacity development for CSOs, Malawi introduced stakeholders who included employers, unions, farmers, government to the “Living Wage Lab”.

This stock taking shows that the Campaign has produced positive results in securing, promoting, and improving the welfare of women working in the horticultural industry.  The future looks bright if the gains made so far are secured and sustained.