Let us talk about sexual harassment

In what is an industry first, The Kenya Flower Council in partnership with Fairtrade Africa and Workers’ Rights Watch (WRW) launched the Model Sexual Harassment Policy for Flower Farms in Kenya. This was on the 12th August 2016 in Nairobi.

At the launch were representatives of  flower farms, civil society organisations who champion for the rights of workers including Kenya Human Rights Commission, members of the wider Fairtrade system and of course Fairtrade Africa.

“Lack of awareness and proper definition of what sexual harassment means has over the years predisposed workers to suffer harassment, notwithstanding, their companies have these policies in place,” noted Dr Tsitsi Choruma, Fairtrade’s Gender Advisor and COO for Fairtrade Africa, during her presentation.

She further said, “This model will have committees including both male and female members, why men?  We believe it is important to remember that men can be victims too, and that to achieve gender equality we need male advocates to champion women’s rights.

The fear of addressing gender-based violence in the workplace cannot be underestimated.  Not addressing sexual harassment issues has severe repercussions not least of which are  effects on productivity levels,  cost of recruitment and retention of staff and ultimately on the reputation of the business and the industry as a whole.

A baseline survey was done in 2013 by WRW on 20 Kenyan flower farms. The survey sought to find out the frequency and forms of sexual harassment and the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to prevent and remedy it. The report indicated that workers have witnessed some form of sexual harassment (SH) at their workplace across all levels.

It also emerged that majority of the farms have in place a Sexual Harassment Handling Policy well known to the workers but they lacked elaborate clear and effective mechanisms for dealing with these cases e.g. effective reporting, investigation and remedial protocols. The gap could have resulted in low confidence by workers to report sexual harassment cases.

A pilot project within eight flower farms followed and the farms volunteered to adopt a sexual harassment policy that would then be scaled-up to the entire flower sector in Kenya. A draft policy was developed by WRW, reviewed by the farms that volunteered to participate in the project and the policy was rolled out the beginning of 2015.

It was clear during the pilot that a lot more than the model policy and the training provided was needed to eliminate sexual harassment and its long-term implications on those affected. Some of these interventions include involvement of Trade Unions in order to activate the adoption of the model policy elements at contract signing and where appropriate within Collective Bargaining Agreements.

Eunice Waweru the Program Coordinator for WRW noted that, “The pilot farms have reported that incidents of sexual harassment have reduced and the Human Resources Managers are now solving those issues promptly.”

For more information on this, please write to Dr.Tsitsi Choruma at t.choruma@fairtradeafrica.net