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By Joyce Chimbi

Examining the gendered needs and rights of employees working in the flower farms has never been timelier. While women account for 70 to 80 percent of workers in the highly lucrative horticulture sector, they are often in seasonal employment or taking on board as casual laborers. Since they are encumbered by the reproductive and care roles, flower farms seems to prefer men to women when it comes to permanent employment.

“We need to continue building momentum around wider stakeholder engagements to ensure that the role and place of women is addressed, so that they too, can enjoy all the benefits of being a worker in the flower industry,” says Hannah Gathoni, an advocate with the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya.

Gender experts say that women should not be penalized and perceived to be less reliable workers because of the many other responsibilities that await them at home. Women still carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household chores and care than men. “But when given a responsibility in their places of work, women have proven that they can deliver. This is the same scenario that we are advocating for in the cut flower sector,” Gathoni adds.

Research done under the Women@Work Campaign shows that investing in the female work force in the flower farm is good for business. Gender experts argue that investing in women includes applying gender sensitive policies and practices, respecting human rights and non-discrimination, promoting education and training, and providing or where possible, and opportunities for professional advancement.

Sexual harassment policy

“Investing in women includes providing them with an environment free from sexual harassment. Where they are appraised on merit and every worker has access to a fair work environment increases their performance,” said Eunice Waweru, the Executive Director of Workers' Rights Watch.

Waweru says flower farms are slowly becoming receptive towards stakeholders who can provide their workers with tools to better perform their duties. “Workers Rights Watch has trained hundreds of workers in the flower farms on the Sexual Harassment Policy. Promoting a healthy environment where all workers are treated with respect and dignity is good for women, men and is good for business,” she says.

She adds that in compliance with the Kenyan legislation, especially the Employment Act of 2007; Section 6, the Labor Relations Act; Section 2, the Sexual Offences Act; Section 23 and the bill of rights: Section 28, any behavior that fits into any form of sexual harassment has been clearly and categorically criminalized. “Any employees, or employers behavior that fits into the definition of sexual harassment represent a form of misconduct, which may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal,” Waweru expounds.

Gender committees

Increased awareness among workers and employers, on gender sexual harassment, is therefore a very critical step towards gender equality and equity. “The establishment of gender committees has reduced cases of sexual harassment. These committees are made up of workers in the flower farms. They listen to cases on sexual harassment and resolve them,” says Jedidah Kamau, a worker in a Naivasha flower farm.

She says that in the past, these cases were too many and rogue supervisors would take advantage of ignorance around sexual harassment and how workers need to respond. “In case the gender committee is faced by a case that cannot be solved at their level, they forward the case to the management. Many supervisors nowadays are very careful about how they conduct business,” Kamau notes.

Research has shown that a respectful work culture can serve as an incentive for workers to go the extra mile and surpass their targets. “But when a supervisor favors a worker because they have a relationship, this demoralizes other workers and people end up doing their work because they have to. Not because they enjoy it and have the skills to accomplish it,” adds Kamau.

Women working in the flower sector acknowledged that in many flower farms where there is a functional gender committee, there is a noticeable increased confidence among female workers because they feel protected. “Women are now offering themselves to join the Union as leaders and this is something that was not there in the past. Where women are given the right tools, they can achieve so much without fear,” adds Kamau.