Kenya: Women Workers in the Sugar sub-sector

A report by Margaret Barasa, chair of KUSPAW Women’s Committee.

The IUF Global Sugar Program invited two women delegates from the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Agricultural Workers (KUSPAW) to attend the first-ever Sugar Conference of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) in Durban, South Africa. IUF Sugar has been working with both FAWU and KUSPAW on Occupational Health and Safety issues as well as supporting Women Workers’ activities. It was deemed necessary for the unions to exchange information and experiences, and Margaret Barasa, chair of KUSPAW Women’s Committee, presented the report here summarized.

The sugar sub-sector is male dominated, particularly in the factory-type and permanent of jobs, while employment for women is mainly concentrated in the low-paying jobs. Figures for permanent employment in selected estates are quoted below. An overwhelming 93.6 percent of this kind of employment is taken by male workers, with a small 6.4 percent being women employees.


Estate Men Women Total
Mumias 725 61 786
Nzoia 701 96 797
SONY 661 35 696
Chemelil 519 46 565
Muhoroni 449 18 467
Kabras 242 10 252
Cane transporter (Mumias) 402 1 403
Cane transporters (Nzoia) 210 0 210
Total 3,909 267 4,176

Recent developments in Kenya, including a review of the country’s constitution, recognised the right of women to occupy at least a 30 percent in the leadership of organisations like unions. KUSPAW established a Women’s Committee to advance the organising and recruiting of women members to the union and it has made efforts to launch training program to achieve this goal, notwithstanding some basic challenges to women’s involvement in sugar and therefore in the unions.

Some of the main challenges that women face to entry in the sugar sector includes the notion that jobs are “too technical” and that only men can perform them, covering under this jobs as varied as the handling  of working tools to jobs demanding some physical effort (not that many) and top management positions. When women are employed, they are usually found in the lower-paid positions, which impedes them to cover the cost of technical training. And, there is the women’s multiple role, that ranges from child bearing and motherhood to the nursing the sick. The latter is a major social and cultural issue in relation to HIV/AIDS, when women are normally the caregivers and, when working, it’s not uncommon for them to request leave of absence to care for their sick… which adds to the idea of women as “unreliable” worker, needed time-off a bit too often.

The KUSPAW branch at Nzoia negotiated provision of Child C are facilities in their 2014 collective bargaining agreement, and the Women’s Group, with whom IUF Sugar has been working with, is now in the process of establishing them.

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1 comment

    • Caroline Busaka on April 10, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Its high time the constitution is obeyed and the one third rule is followed when it comes to employing women in our sugar industry

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