With a focus on understanding and addressing the root causes of poor working conditions in the tobacco growing sector in Malawi, IUF affiliate Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOAWUM) recently gathered to strategize how to organize, fight and win for tobacco workers, including a specific conference for women workers.
The women’s conference aimed to empower women to take up decision-making positions, to be active in all union structures, and to fight to end all forms of inequality including gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Through the discussions, the women workers identified some of the major challenges faced on tobacco farms: long working hours, low wages, no signed contracts with the tenants and the main farmers, poor occupational health and safety standards, no personal protective equipment, and lack of maternity and social protection for women workers.
Key recommendations presented by the women workers to the main conference included:
- Prioritize the fight against gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work; it was noted with great concern that the largest part of Malawi is dominated by a patriarch society and culture leaves women vulnerable to gender inequality, discrimination, gender-based violence and harassment.
- Train more women as health and safety representatives and organize awareness programs on a gender approach to OHS.
- Lobby for universal social protections including the right to maternity protections
The TOAWUM conference ended with elections where 7 of the 9 positions were filled by women including Regina Nangombe, the newly elected president of TOAWUM, who stated, “The union should ensure that women treat each other as a support and resource base, embrace equality of opportunity, promote equal remuneration, promote access to safe and healthy working environment but most importantly strengthen organizing and recruitment of tobacco workers putting into consideration the informal setting of the sector.”