In her remarks to the Chemelil-Muhoroni workshop, Caroline told us about a conversation she once had with a female colleague. The colleague, she said, had complained of ongoing sexual harassment at work, and had approached her for help – or at least to have someone to talk to. Caroline suggested accompanying her to talk to the union branch, for them to take up her case. The friend decided not to follow her case because she was afraid of the (negative) consequences she had to face, such as risks about her job and employment, potential pressure on her and her family, maybe criticism from her peers. In other words, growing uncertainty proper of a situation of vulnerability.
Workshop participants sympathised with Caroline’s colleague’s plight, adding they knew about similar cases, where the alleged victim had decided to drop her allegations for fear of retaliation and isolation.
This anecdote summarised the main point of the three IUF Sugar workshops held from 8-12 February in coordination with KUSPAW at the sugar estates of Mumias, Nzoia and Chemelil – the latter with participation of delegates from Muhoroni: while women are slowly becoming more confident in talking about sexual harassment at sugar workplaces, there are still significant challenges to overcome.
From this perspective, the workshops were just one step towards a main objective of the IUF Sugar and Palm Oil project in Kenya: the drafting of a union policy and action plan on sexual harassment in the country’s sugar sub-sector, based on empowering members at the grass-root level.
The IUF Global Sugar Program and KUSPAW have worked on issues relevant to the sub-sector, as was the case when outlining a policy and action plan on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), that approached OSH as an organising tool and for empowering members, and as a key factor when building the unions’ political position in reference to the subsector. In the case of sexual harassment, there appears some clear limitations in the subsector. For instance, although the Employment Act (2007) briefly deals with sexual harassment at the workplace, it limits the concept to the employer-employee relationship; while scant mentioning appears in individual company policies or statements on the subject.
Main aspects dealt with in the workshops were the building a clear understanding of sexual harassment by learning from and using the best practices from around the IUF global network and also exchanging experiences, starting with the participants own life experience. This exercise allowed for sensibly outline some activities for the joint work of IUF Sugar and KUSPAW.
The workshops also heard reports on Maternity Protection and Child Care facilities, Equality at the workplace and Sexual Harassment. A group of women workers in Nzoia has been working consistently on Child Care facilities for the past three years – encouraged by the IUF Global Sugar Program –, which were included in the 2014 collective bargaining agreement. The Nzoia work continues and their experience is being shared with other KUSPAW branches. The IUF Sugar and Palm Oil project will continue supporting this initiative.
The IUF project untitled “Fostering Good Jobs in energy crops” is also supported by the Canadian union Unifor. It works with sugar unions in Kenya, South Africa and Benin, and palm oil unions in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.
- South Africa and Kenya: Confronting sexual harassment in the sugar sector (Chapter I)
- South Africa: Confronting sexual harassment in the sugar sector: Joint work with FAWU (Chapter II)
 Compare this approach with a more comprehensive understanding on the topic as expressed by the “Joint commitment on preventing sexual harassment at Unilever” signed by the IUF and IndustriALL with Unilever on 26 January. The two global unions represent some 60 million workers around the world, while Unilever is one of the world’s largest companies involved in food processing and production of personal care products. (See http://www.iuf.org/w/sites/default/files/IUFIAUnileversexualharassmentjointcommitment.pdf )