Author: Lilian Kiefer, November 23 2016 - As we approach the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV), action must be urgently taken to address the lack of respect for the right to decent work for women who work in the commercial farms.  

GBV is an injustice meted on women due to the prevailing gender dynamics and gender-related power dynamics of our society. It can be physical, emotional, or mental. This is one of the most widespread and persistent vices that demean women and strips them of their dignity.

One form of GBV that happens at work is where women are given poor work conditions and subjected to harmful work environment.

The UN General Comment on "decent work" in satisfying Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) defines decent work as employment that "respects the fundamental rights of the human person as well as the rights of workers in terms of conditions of work safety and remuneration, including respect for the physical and mental integrity of the worker in the exercise of his/her employment”.

While the right to decent work is provided for in the Zambian Employment and Labour Relations Act, the practice on the ground is different, especially for women. Although farms employ both men and women, and they are in most cases equally salaried for same type of work, women were found to constitute majority of workers. A 2015 scoping study on Women at Work in commercial farms found that the majority of farm workers are women, comprising up to70 % of the total labour force. For the men, it is mainly to provide needed manual labour and operate machinery.

The general conditions of service in the farm are in most cases short of decent work. They do not deliver a fair income, neither do they ensure safety and security in the workplace and social protection for the families of their workers. The scoping study (2015) showed that most workers in the Zambian farms are paid less than the government prescribed minimum wage (ZMK 720) and are not adequately provided with protective clothing. The study also noted that farm women workers were not provided with prospects for personal development and/or  social integration. Farm workers also suffered limited freedom for expressing their concerns, had no organised unions and did not participate in the decision making processes of issues that affect their lives. In the case of women, they are denied their reproductive rights such as maternity leave, compassionate leave, and mother’s day, among others.

These factors compromise the dignity of women who work hard on these farms to contribute to economic development of the country. One of the main factors underlying lack of respect for decent work for women is the lack of compliance and adherence to the provisions on the Zambian Employment and Labour Relations Act. This is because most workers do not know the provisions of the Act, and therefore do not demand for fairness in accordance with the provisions of the Act. It is also compounded by the failure of labour inspectors to tour these farms and enforce the provisions. It is critical that platforms for debates on the right to decent work be provided and stimulated to ensure that women’s participation in productive activities is gender sensitive and does not strip them off their dignity as female workers.

It is therefore important that as Zambia marches towards full utilizations of the agricultural sector, a campaign is mounted to advocate for equitable treatment of female farm workers and creation of an enabling farm work environment that allows women to work in humane and dignified environments. This will help ensure that employers know that the general public is aware that the law is being broken. The law enforcers (the State) will also rise up to their responsibility to ensure that non-compliance is penalised as required.

Panos Institute Southern Africa is partnering with other stakeholders in a campaign that will use various strategies to popularise the right to Decent Work for Women as provided for in the laws of Zambia.

In pursuant of this cause, the campaign will rally around the 16 days of activism against GBV to champion the cause of the Right to Decent Work for women. The campaign will also utilise social media platforms to stimulate debate around the need for respect of the right to decent work.

Hopefully, respect of the right to decent work for women working in commercial farms will be actualised.

Lilian Kiefer is the Executive Director of PSAf. For feedback, email: lilian@panos.org.zm

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