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  • Writer's pictureHarriet Cole

Tackling gender-based violence & harassment (GBVH) in agricultural supply chains and why women’s rights groups need funding.

 As a new Women Working Worldwide (WWW) Trustee and in dedication to international women’s day, I wanted to share my experiences on a thought-provoking webinar I attended on ‘Tackling gender-based violence & harassment (GBVH) in agricultural supply chains’ delivered by WWW, THIRST (The International Roundtable on Sustainable Tea) and tea consultants T-Evolve. The webinar was hosted on 7th February 2024, a few months after the publication of their briefing paper ‘Consent. Just consent then you can come to work: Risk Factors for Gender Based Violence in the Tea Sector’ Consent. Just Consent. | women-ww. The paper was a direct response to the BBC Panorama program in February 2023 exposing the sex for work scandal in Kenyan tea estates. 

The aims of the webinar included, sharing the GBVH enablers in the tea sector and the lessons learnt in the tea industry and how these could be useful to other sectors. Then a focus on potential actions that businesses (and consultants) should consider. 

Sabita Banerji from THIRST, started the session and reiterated the point that GBVH happens in all sectors of agriculture, not just tea, and reminded the group of the importance of tackling GBVH. 

Caroline Downey of WWW shared the James Finlay Kenya (JFK) journey (who were one of the companies named in the Panorama expose) and highlighted the extensive work JFK had done on gender equality, especially up to 2018, and raised questions on why these systems and policies had failed the women workers. 

Michael Pennant-Jones of T-Evolve then gave insight into examples of GBVH root causes for the tea industry, such as hierarchy, generalised roles, colonial roots, and isolated working conditions that all exacerbate the issue. The specific issues in Kenya, such as management structures, low wages and business and social norms were explained. The opacity of the tea sector, i.e. the reluctance to ‘lift the carpet’ was another contributor presented. 

What stuck out for me was T-Evolve highlighting that tackling GBVH is not about ensuring compliance and the 'lens' needs to change in order to detect these hidden criminal behaviours. Businesses cannot rely on compliance and audits to find GBVH and ‘beyond audit’ mindsets need to be encouraged. Guidance on this can be found in the ILO Convention 190 and Recommendation 206 on violence and work, which provides a common framework for preventing, addressing, and eliminating violence and harassment. 

Questions were also raised on how technical and mechanical advances can positively and negatively impact GBVH. Machine tea harvesting was discussed and the consequences of reduced employment for women workers who mainly hand-pick. 

Smaller working groups allowed participants to explore specific risk areas within agriculture sectors, such as recruitment practices and issues within smallholder farms. The assumption that smallholders only employ family members aren’t always correct. ‘Invisible’ family members and hired labour in smallholder farms are most at risk due to the lack of transparency and controls. 

The session was rounded off with Caroline Downey sharing the lessons learned by WWW and their suggested steps for businesses to take. Mapping GBVH risks and education and raising awareness was the first suggested step. Followed by strengthening women’s participation and representation and promoting gender-inclusive supply chains. 

The webinar showed how important it was to understand the drivers within each specific sector but also shared the steps any business could take to make GBVH more difficult to perpetrate. The webinar also demonstrated the importance of proper protection and remedy, should or when needed. Final take aways were always assume GBVH is present and strive to ensure GBVH needs are constantly reviewed, are meaningful, useful to everyone in the business and are supported by senior management. 

Despite the overwhelming need for organisations like WWW to support women and women’s rights groups and assist companies wishing to tackle gender equality and GBVH the funding landscape is very bleak. The UK has cut its overseas funding from 0.7 to 0.5 of GDP resulting in an approximately 20% cut in actual funding and globally only 1% of gender focused aid going to women’s organisations. WWW continue to lobby for adequate and targeted funding. 

Please get in touch if you would like WWW to help you in your gender equality journey, you can find us on Facebook and LinkedIn. Alternatively, if you want to support with a donation, please visit our website

Happy International Women’s Day 

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