Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. The day also exists to remind people that globally there is still much to be done to accelerate gender parity.

This is an important reminder for all of us working in the tea sector, where women make up a large proportion of the workforce but often have very few opportunities for progression. In addition, tea is grown in many places where women and girls are vulnerable to exploitation. At ETP we’re working to address both aspects of this challenge.

Female truck driverFor example, in Kenya, our three-year programme on improving opportunities for women and reducing harassment and exploitation has been rolled out across 65 Kenyan Tea Development Agency factories. As a result, new opportunities have opened up for women, resulting in changes that even surprised our ever dynamic and optimistic Kenyan project manager, Jane Nyambura: ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived at the factory and saw women driving the trucks that pick up the green leaf!’

Equally importantly, there has been a substantial change in attitudes at all levels - from the boardroom to the factory floor - in terms of understanding and dealing with discrimination and harassment of women. Gender committees have been established at every factory to ensure that there are effective systems in place to identify and deal with any problems facing women.

I am delighted that similar efforts are now being planned by the Tea Association of Malawi, who have hired a gender consultant and are developing new policies and programmes to address discrimination and harassment and improve opportunities and outcomes for Malawian women working in the industry. This work is a key component of the Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme, which ETP is co-ordinating with the Tea Association of Malawi, Oxfam, development partners, IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative), and GIZ (German Development Agency).

I am writing this from India, where with 43% of girls getting married before they are 18 and over 40% of all children failing to complete eight years of education, young women from rural communities are left with few choices. This increases their vulnerability to trafficking and offers of work in cities, which mostly turn out to be highly exploitative.

Tinsukia AGG DSC_0248Our three-year partnership with UNICEF was developed to tackle these issues and improve the life chances of 25,000 girls in Assam. Everyone who has been involved with this work has been enormously impressed with the changes that they have witnessed in the confidence of the young women involved in the programme to take charge of their destinies and their potential to act as agents of change in their communities. Tea estate managers are hugely supportive of the programme and its ability to reduce trafficking and exploitation in their localities. You can watch a video about the partnership here.

As I discuss future programmes to improve the sustainability of the Indian tea industry and the lives and livelihoods of workers, farmers, and their communities, I have been reviewing how our plans fit with Assam’s approach to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal five is to Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls. The Assam Government has ambitious plans to achieve this, including, enhancing the scope and avenues of employment for women…. And halting all forms of violence and crimes against women over the next 15 years.’ I look forward to the role that ETP can play as part of the UNICEF partnership in helping the tea industry to achieve this goal.

So on this International Women’s Day, please raise a cup of tea to all the women who have been involved in producing your tea, and please get in touch if you would like to be part of our future work to improve outcomes for women in tea.

Best Wishes,

Sarah Roberts, Executive Director, Ethical Tea Partnership