Agriculture generates over 90% of export earnings and 45% of Malawi’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The majority of the workforce (80%) is employed in the agriculture sector. The horticulture industry is among the sectors with the potential to improve food security, income, foreign exchange earnings, and generate employment. Statistics on exports shows that between 2010 and 2015 Malawi earned 3.5 million US dollar from the export of 26 and 172 tonnes of legumes and flowers respectively. However, quantities have declined significantly. There is currently no export of flowers to the Netherlands due to high freight costs. In Malawi, the Women@Work Campaign therefore focuses on the chili sector.
Women workers in the chili sector
Despite having a conducive legal framework for promoting productive and decent employment, the working conditions in the chili sector are unfavorable. Although women are actively involved in all production activities along the chili value chain, they face challenges such as lack of occupational health and safety, heavy workloads, lack or limited participation in trade union activities, and low wages. Due to high illiteracy levels among women, many women work as casual and seasonal workers with no formal contracts, contravening the Malawi Employment Act which requires employers to give employees written contracts.
There is a need to collectively bargain for better pay than the minimum wage, especially for female workers who are underpaid given the heavy workloads and long hours in which casual/seasonal workers are subjected to. In some cases, women work with children on their backs and without protective gear. The minimum wage in Malawi is about 1,25 US dollar per day, which is below the World Poverty Line of 1,90 US per day.
In Malawi, we work with two partners. Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), a faith-based organization, lobbies for a decent wage for farm workers in the horticulture sector. They furthermore capacitate civil society organizations and governments to effectively play their roles in building the capacity for women workers and farm management, and empower women workers and growers to harness a positive attitude towards corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The Every Girl in School Alliance (EGISA) holds #SheTalks, through which they want to strengthen the capacities of women horticulture farmers and their associations to advocate for their rights and champion for women’s safety from sexual harassment in farming, equitable and fair wages and increase participation in decision making structures and processes.
Specifically, the project will develop a ‘Labor Rights and Sexual Harassment’ Curriculum and conduct training of trainers for Lead Women Farmers to use this guide; work with civil society organisations, in particular trade unions and farmer associations and groupings to strengthen their advocacy skills and develop collective action plans; link horticulture farmers with lucrative markets; and support the development and/or review and implementation of gender equitable policies that promote the rights of seasonal and casual women horticulture farmers. In addition, the project will utilize the power of media to raise awareness of labor rights and the work of the Women@Work Campaign in Malawi
- We have conducted a baseline study about the conditions in the chili industry.
- We have set up the Change Lab, which seeks to bring players and interested stakeholders in the industry together to discuss innovative ideas on how to work towards a living wage in the horticulture industry in Malawi.