Gender-related matters, such as sexual harassment and violence against women, are rightly taking more of the media space; the challenge is for individuals to effectively identify such occurrences in their daily life. Sensitisation is a major effort to develop such understanding to enhance our response to alleged cases, share the somebody else’ plight (or situation) thanks on an increased knowledge and greater empathy. Especially if we are male union officials in a male-dominated sector.
This was the framework for a series of workshops on sexual harassment held from Sept. 26-Oct. 1 with the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation Workers (KUSPW), under the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project. The program consisted of eight sensitising gatherings at estate level for male branch officials only, from all ten KUSPW branches, followed by a one-day workshop with female branch officials.
The gender-separated activities responded to the actual state of implementing the IUF Sugar/Palm Oil project (2015-2017), the prevalent level of understanding on the matter, and the gender composition of the branches’ leadership. It was a challenging proposal that was wholeheartedly embraced by the national KUSPW leadership.
In January this year, KUSPW elected 120 branch officials (12 officials per branch, in each of the 10 branches). Twenty-six of them were female leaders – or close to 21 percent- but changes have taken place and their numbers have decreased. This meant that at least 79 percent of branch officials are men. Accepting – based on factual evidence – that women are in an overwhelming majority the victims of sexual harassment, the challenge is clear: what a predominantly male union leadership needs to do to represent female workers/union members, who most probably may become the victims of sexual harassment.
While KUSPW female members have, under the IUF Sugar projects, advanced some work on sexual harassment (May 2015, Feb. 2016), as well as in other issues (i.e. occupational health and safety, child care facilities at the workplace), gender-separated activities were advisable at this point: they allow to build self-confidence among members to tackle sexual harassment, a highly sensitive issue, without trivialising it; to build language and concepts, and to make an effort to identify episodes of sexual harassment in what appears to be brushed aside as a “common thing.” The three latter aspects were the core of workshops with male officials talking about their own understanding of sexual harassment based on what they knew or had heard at their workplace, which was followed by an exploration of what sexual harassment is based on the best practices from the IUF global network, and ending with a discussion on whether KUSPW should be concerned with it and what can do about it.
Seventy percent of all KUSPW male branch officials attended the workshops and they signed a declaration that defines sexual harassment as a violation of human and labour rights and recommended actions for the union to take. A thrust of the recommendations was for a continued improvement of the joint work with the IUF Global Sugar and Palm Oil Program. Declaration from KUSPW Workshops on Sexual Harassment. September-October 2016
Participants in the Estate-level workshops
|Date||Branches||Total male leaders in branch||Male participants||% of participants /total male leaders|
|Sept. 26||1- Mumias||8||3||37.5|
|2- Mumias Cane Transporters||12||5||41.6|
|4- Nzoia Cane Transporters||11||9||81.8|
|Sept. 27||5- Chemelil||8||7||87.5|
|Sept. 28||7- South Nyanza (SONY)||8||7||87.5|
|Sept. 29||8- West Kenya (Kabras)||10||8||80.0|
|Sept. 30||10- Kibos||11||5||45.5|
|Total number of branch officials||120 (80% of total)|
After the male officials-only workshops, the program ended in a one-day workshop for female union officials in Kisumu, the heart of Kenya’s sugar belt on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The women workshop heard branch reports on sexual harassment policies (company-based or otherwise), and reviewed related national legislation and international experiences. They also confirmed the recommendations from the estate-level workshops: on one side, that once members’ self- confidence is strong enough, all-gender activities are a must; and, on the other, to further develop KUSPW’s work on sexual harassment and link it to Occupational Health and Safety matters (developed under IUF Sugar projects in 2007-2014). They called KUSPW to mobilise members under this issue in the 2017 Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28th).
From the IUF Global Sugar and Palm Oil Program, this activity was important as it touched on one key aspect of any sensitisation effort: the development of knowledge, understanding and empathy among union leaders, which has to be followed by conquests to consolidate such understanding.
 Writing from Peru, after the 13 August massive demonstration under the banner “Ni Una Menos” (“Not one less”) protesting the violence against women. As well, while the estate-level sugar workshops in Kenya were held “The Daily Nation” published a worth reading news: “Sexual abuse is widespread in Judiciary: Judge” available at http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Judge-admits-to-rampant-sexual-abuse-in-Judiciary/1056-3399746-format-xhtml-15si67gz/index.html