COVID-19 to exacerbate the situation of women working in flower farms

BY  · MAY 24, 2020

It is no longer business as usual for women at work in flower farms as production slows to about 30 percent and hundreds of thousands of workers are laid off. COVID-19 pandemic is having its share of pain on women workers.

Global health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), continues to issue dire warnings of tough times ahead. In short, it is going to get really bad before it gets any better.

The government has already released alarming projections indicating that the peak of this disease might be in August or September 2020, as the country now tackles community infections that are lethal.

What this means for vulnerable women in the flower farms and their children is the subject of many gender and development experts, including those behind the Women@Work campaign.

Over the years, this campaign has focused on dialogue with flower farm stakeholders to improve the plight of women working in the lucrative cut flower industry.

“But now we have to shift gear and begin conversations on what the uncertain times we now live in mean for our women,” says Angeline Karanja, Executive Director of Women Global.

Karanja has over the years focused her attention on women at the very bottom of career radar such as those in the flower farms.

“Statistics are very clear that when the world turns upside down whether from conflict, war or now a global virus, women and their children suffer the most,” she says.

Using the International Poverty Line of $1.90 a day, gender and development experts such as Carolina Sanchez-Paramo and Ana Maria Munoz- Boudet arrived at very startling statistics.

They note: “Children account for 44 percent of the global extreme poor and poverty rates are highest among children, particularly among girls. There are 105 girls for every 100 boys living in extremely poor households, across all ages.”

The two accomplished researchers further found that as these boys and girls grow older, the gender gap in poverty widens even further. Noting: “At least 122 women between the ages of 25 and 34 live in poor households for every 100 men in the same age group.”

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Call for action to bridge gender inequalities in the floriculture industry

No one knows this gap better than women working in the flower farms. Other research by the National Education Union on Women and Poverty shows that women are overall, more likely to experience persistent poverty.

Research released by the National Education Union reads in part: “More than one-fifth of women, 22 percent, have a persistent low income, compared to approximately 14 percent of men. Living in persistent poverty denies women the opportunity to build up savings and assets to fall back on in times of hardships.”

This is very true for women in the cut flower sector. But there is a ray of hope.  Joyce Iminza, who works at a leading flower farm in the cut flower industry, explains that things have been looking up.

“The wages had improved and we were all better off compared to how things were several years ago. Women have been encouraged to take up leadership positions and to strive to better themselves,” she says.

At Nini farm where she works, many say that this is among the best flower farms in Naivasha. The working conditions are much better, wages higher and workers provided with protective gear.

“Many women here are on contracts and feel secure that tomorrow there will be a job for them. Even those that go on maternity have no reason to worry because they take paid leave,” Iminza explains.

But as the world suffers one blow after another from Covid-19, it is hard to say how long even the best flower farms in Naivasha and Thika will continue to hold strong against this global pandemic.

Cut flower sales have gone down to levels no one could have predicted even in their wildest imagination.

Many of the 90,000 workers in this sector have no other sources of income as the industry continues to produce fewer and fewer flowers. Weighed against food, water and medicine many do not consider flowers as an essential commodity.

This scenario indicates why any recovery plans by the state and non-state actors must seek, involve and include the views of women working flower farms on the needs and expectations. Only after this has happened, will these women be protected from further marginalization.

W@W–

This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Newspaper. Click here to read the original article

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