Kenya is the world’s leading exporter of black tea and women are at the heart of the sector, providing over 60% of the labour required for tea production and comprising 40% of tea farmers. Despite the critical role that women play in the sector, they are highly underrepresented in leadership positions.
When women’s voices are excluded from decision-making processes, we miss the opportunity to leverage them as agents of change. As a result, the final choices are less likely to be reflective of women’s differentiated needs, less effective and less sustainable.
Despite the critical role that women play in the sector, they are highly underrepresented in leadership positions.
The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) collaborated with Women Win to explore women’s work opportunities in tea factories. Initially, the collaboration resulted in an internal report on ‘Strengthening Approaches and Strategies for Promoting Greater Participation of Women in the Tea Sector in Kenya.’
The report produced broad recommendations for ETP such as:
- hold deeper discussions with critical stakeholders;
- prioritise work on advancing women in leadership in the tea sector;
- forge alliances aimed at fostering gender equality; and
- work with male champions for change.
Following on from the first recommendation, the collaboration with Women Win culminated in a co-creation workshop on transformative leadership attended by several stakeholders including The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), Womens Rights Organisations (WROs), and various women leaders from the tea sector.
In the workshop, participants identified that developing gender-sensitive policies and implementing leadership programmes, which focus on farmers and workers within the communities, are key mechanisms for enabling inclusive leadership.
ETP has used the workshop inputs to design a multi-country programme on transformative and inclusive leadership prioritising the following approaches:
Building a shared understanding of leadership
This includes collaboration, negotiation, respectful conflict-resolution, shared power and accountability. Leadership training is often targeted at women, but in order to ensure that everyone is working to the same leadership goals, we must also invest in building the skills of existing leaders, men and boys.
One of the participating WRO, FEMNET, has developed a mentoring and sisterhood guide for women working in global supply chains.
The guide complements FEMNET’s feminist and transformational leadership training programme which in the past been delivered to women flower farm workers. ETP is working with FEMNET, to adapt the training so that people of all genders in the tea sector can benefit from it.
Valuing women as leaders in all spheres of their lives
Leadership continues to be associated with stereotypical masculine traits, and as a result, women tend to be evaluated more negatively than men as leaders. Yet, across many societies, women play a primary role in building collaborative networks (partly as a result of bearing disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work) thereby developing essential leadership skills such as empathy, cooperation, and people-management. These skills are often undervalued, overlooked, or even worse, perceived as weaknesses.
If we can change our perceptions of what leadership should look like and if we can stop undervaluing the immense amount of work undertaken by women, we would see increased numbers of women being elected to leadership roles.
KTDA undertook a series of ‘household dialogues’ with smallholder tea farmers to promote equitable decision-making at a household level. The approach encourages household members to communicate on planning and to collaborate on key decisions thereby subtly challenging the expectations of gender roles.
By transforming leadership structures and practices within the tea sector, we believe that women will ultimately have more voice, more visibility, and more influence.
Promoting transparent, accountable, and fair leadership structures
By transforming leadership structures and practices within the tea sector and making them more accessible, accountable, and empowering to the people they are set up to represent, we believe that women will ultimately have more voice, more visibility, and more influence.
In Assam, India, ETP has piloted Community Development Forums, a model for transforming relationships between tea workers and estate managers. Through the forums, workers, women, managers, and other key stakeholders can make joint, transparent decisions, and collectively strategise. This innovative governance model has led to reduced conflict between workers and managers, increased productivity, and improved access to services.
Women should have the right to shape the decisions that govern their lives and livelihoods. Their equal participation in decision-making processes is particularly critical to the tea sector which requires inclusive approaches to solving urgent sustainability issues. However, inclusive leadership cannot be realised by simply assimilating women leaders into the very systems which discriminate against them. Instead, we need to critically rethink the concept of ‘leadership’ and commit to creating fairer structures which allow for meaningful and equal participation.