Pearls of feminine laughter can be heard echoing in the valleys of the lush green tea bushes in the tea-growing areas in Kenya. Women hard at work, bracing the biting morning chill that has their bones rattling but their spirits unwavering to complete the tea-plucking task before the sunrays become unbearably hot.
With their baskets securely latched on their backs, the women move swiftly from one bush to the next quickly plucking the two leaves and bud as they tell stories. A few men can be heard occasionally responding, followed by hearty laughs. Such scenes are common in all the seven tea-growing regions in Kenya.
However, despite women’s active participation in the tea growing business, men who are traditionally revered as the head of the family, are wholly tasked with the responsibility of making major decisions that affect the tea estate his family owns. They decide how and where the money from wages and cash crops from the farm are spent. Occasionally, some men collect the tea earnings and spend it on things that don’t entirely benefit his family – potentially exposing them to untold economic sufferings.
It is this inequality that prompted Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Holdings and ETP to embark on a one day training targeting more than 1,000 factory managers, supervisors, and general workers on social, gender, and contractual issues.
KTDA is Kenya’s leading tea producer by volume and export value. The Agency is responsible for over 560,000 small-scale farmers spread out in tea growing areas throughout Kenya. Through its KTDA Management Service (KTDA MS) subsidiary, it currently manages 66 Tea Factories and two Tea Estates, Kagochi and Kangaita.
The desired outcome of the training was for the trained personnel to pass on their knowledge to farmers, workers, and community members.
Each forum sensitised participants on the need for men and women to be treated equally both at home and in the work place without any discrimination. This is not just a Kenyan constitution requirement but also a basic human right.
Following this training, Gender Committees were formed in all the factories in which the training took place. These committees meet once every four months to discuss gender related issues. If deemed necessary the issues are further escalated to management and factory boards as policies. The precedence given to gender equality is highlighted by the fact that during general meetings, workers remind management to say something on gender if it’s omitted from the agenda.
In my role I have observed how gender issues are now openly discussed. Women workers who have previously been passive especially in the presence of male colleagues now have the courage to speak freely and openly about their concerns and ask management to address specific gender issues that touch on their wellbeing. They even felt motivated enough to share with other members in the community through churches, social groups, and other forums.
A participant of the training told me, “I have not been discussing or sharing with my wife information regarding the earnings obtained from tea although she is the one who works on the farm. From today, I shall not only share this information with her, but I will also give her the money she needs to cover her basic needs”. After these trainings, both men and women are more enlightened of each others’ contribution that is necessary for the whole society to move forward.”
Seth Agala, Head of Training, KTDA, was speaking about a 3 year Social Issues project between ETP, KTDA, and IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative aimed at reducing discrimination & harassment, and promoting equal opportunities. As part of the project a Social Issues Training Manual was developed.