Empowering female workers

As I travel through Kenya, it’s clear to see that inequalities still exist between men and women both at home and in the work place. To address this situation we’re running a training programme that raises awareness about gender issues and motivates participants to change their behavior as well as influencing those around them to do the same. The training, which we’re funding together with IDH and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), is addressing some of the more challenging issues in the Kenyan tea sector. Issues include gender and equality, sexual harassment, contractual issues, and worker-management relationships. So far we’ve run three training sessions, each with 30 participants, made up of factory workers and management from 6 Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) factories.

During the workshop, our training specialist Winnie Mueni (pictured) analysed the daily work schedules of men and women and found the following:

  • Including ‘running the home’ women work between fifteen to eighteen hours a day while men work between six and eight.
  • Men have at least three hours of leisure a day while women have none.
  • Men make family decisions such as purchasing decisions, disposal of property, children’s education and career choice, and the number of wives to marry etc. They don’t have to consult their women (including wives)
  • Women can make decisions concerning their children but only up until a ‘boy child’ becomes a ‘man’

Winfred MueniWinnie also noted that while there was good gender awareness among tea growing communities and at tea factories, women are mainly in lower ranking positions and rarely apply for senior roles. In order for women to have the same opportunities as men it’s important to change how women are perceived by society. For this to happen three things need to take place:

  1. Men (fathers and husbands) need to change their attitudes about women and education
  2. Women need to create time for themselves, and this is only possible if household responsibilities/chores are shared
  3. Women need to overcome the stereotypical views and and perceptions that prohibit them from entering higher education and/or advancing their careers

The training also focuses on how social issues are managed at KTDA factories. Therefore at the end of each training session, action plans for each factory are devised and typically include the following:

  • Development of gender committees
  • Teaching participants how to deal with workplace issues (e.g. how to report issues in confidence)
  • Rolling out the training to all other factory workers
  • Development of gender policies
  • Addition of gender policy and anti-discrimination clause to staff contracts

After the training Winnie found that participants in all the sessions had a desire to change their own attitudes. They also appreciated that women having a say in financial decisions was key to them having control over their own destinies, and this was seen as a good thing. Given the feedback I’m optimistic that the women employed at the KTDA factories will be treated more equally and lead more dignified lives. I am also confident that the programme will help increase career progression opportunities for women, which will ultimately mean better incomes for those families.  

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