Empowering women in tea communities

Although women and girls enjoy greater rights and opportunities today than at any other time in history, gender inequality persists around the world. We know that women and girls’ lives are often limited in the countries and communities that produce tea.

The context

Although women and girls enjoy greater rights and opportunities today than at any other time in history, gender inequality persists around the world. We know that women and girls’ lives are often limited in the countries and communities that produce tea.

Gender equality is a basic human right. Investing in women empowers them to fully contribute to society, accelerating social and economic progress. Given that women and girls make up two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, part of tackling the issues surrounding poverty must involve addressing gender inequality.

As in many agricultural industries, tea relies on female labour. While women make up most of the workforce they are underrepresented at a senior level, with few opportunities to progress. This puts them at risk of discrimination, exploitation and gender-based violence.

Safety is not just an issue in the workplace. The number of women who have experienced domestic violence in tea-producing countries is high – often over a third of the population.

Women’s aspirations are usually limited at home too: they tend to have little say in financial decisions. Women and girls are typically the ones tasked with looking after the family. This unpaid responsibility can take them out of school and curb their potential.

Credit: Andy Hall

Our aims

Our mission is to help create a thriving tea sector, and we can only achieve this by putting women at the heart of all we do.

We empower women by expanding their ability to make informed, strategic life choices, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to implement these choices, and reducing the barriers that are holding them back. We work to reduce gender-based violence and increase women and their children’s safety at home, as well as in the workplace.

We work to:

  • improve women’s safety
  • develop women’s place in the industry, bringing more into leadership positions
  • support women to have better, more secure incomes
  • empower women to have more influence in society
  • improve women’s health and wellbeing.
Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Our impact

We tackle gender inequality and support women to reach their full potential. Addressing gender issues is a complex task, requiring a number of different approaches.

Changing lives

35,000girls in Assam, India have better lives

250,000people directly and indirectly reached with our current partnership with Unicef

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

We give women and girls brighter futures and improve their quality of life.

Thanks to our partnership with Unicef, 35,000 girls in Assam, India have better lives. Together we are reducing child marriage and unsafe migration, helping girls stay in education and equipping them with the skills to decrease the risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. We’re supporting women in Assam to have healthier diets, as well as improving their sanitation facilities and the services available for new mothers.

Our current partnership with Unicef covers one-quarter of the Assam tea industry, and will reach 250,000 people directly and indirectly. As part of our current partnership with Unicef we have developed our Women, Children and Families in Assam Commitment, which sets out our collective ambition to improve women’s lives.

Andy Hall

Workplace equality

We improve women’s lives by making sure that where they work is safe and free of harassment, with appropriate and effective grievance systems in place.

In Kenya, we’ve worked with national farmer organisation the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) for many years to address gender inequality and gender-based violence in the workplace. Together, we’re helping to make workplaces safer and supporting women to reach their full potential: from the factory floor to the Board.

We have built on this experience, working with the Kenyan tea industry and IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative to develop common tools to support the tea industry to recognise issues around gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Collaboratively, we develop appropriate and effective responses to these issues.

Together, we’re helping to make workplaces safer and supporting women to reach their full potential: from the factory floor to the Board.

We have been supporting the development and implementation of workplace gender committees in a number of countries, including Kenya and Rwanda. These increase women’s representation, and play a key role in developing, implementing, reviewing and improving policies and systems to improve equality, reduce harassment, tackle inequality and address gender issues.

Our innovative work in Sri Lanka has given women in tea estates the chance to expand their skills and responsibilities. No longer restricted to plucker roles, women are now making more money – changing their lives and their families’.

Growing influence

We work to increase women’s representation in decision-making and community bodies across the tea industry. This is a vital step in our mission to improve gender equality.

Our Community Empowerment Programmes in Assam, India and Sri Lanka give tea communities a forum to voice and act on their own concerns, alongside estate managers. We make sure that women are well represented, giving them a much-needed voice and seat at the table with management.

Going further, we work directly with women in tea communities to develop their skills. Our work means that they can capably have an equal say on the issues important to them.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Increasing incomes

Credit: Andy Hall

We empower women financially: working together to better their incomes, access badly needed finance and develop their understanding of business so that they can have more control over financial planning. This is changing not just women’s lives, it’s also supporting the next generation as mothers invest in their children’s health and education.

Women make up a significant proportion of the small-scale tea farmers who take part in our practical agricultural training programme. Putting into action what they learn, women across Malawi, Rwanda  and Sri Lanka are increasing how much they earn from their land. We work with farmers in Malawi  and Rwanda to develop lending and savings schemes, offering them much needed access to finance. It is mainly women taking up this opportunity, and they are often the ones leading the schemes within their communities.

The extra income is changing women’s lives: helping them meet basic needs such as putting food on the table to longer-term investments in their children’s education and household repairs.

Our programmes go further: we support farmers with business and entrepreneurship training, empowering women to have an equal say in financial issues. We help women to successfully run their own money-making schemes – such as selling fuel-efficient cookstoves  and honey products in Malawi, to name a few enterprising activities women are heading up.

Collectively, our work encourages women to be more independent. As they become champions, these women encourage others to learn from and mirror them. This ripple effect is driving long-term, sustainable change for women.

Healthy diets

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Recognising that poor diets and malnutrition are key issues curbing women and their children’s futures in tea communities, we tackle this head on.

In Sri Lanka and India we work with women to develop their knowledge and skills to adopt a better diet, and to learn about mother and child nutrition.

We work with female farmers in Malawi and Rwanda to expand their diets to be more nutritious, and to pass their own learning on to their families.

Find out more

Read more about the initiatives we run to empower women in tea communities around the world, and the difference we’re making to their lives.