Workplaces unsafe environments, say female farm workers

Ms Mabutho

WOMEN employed in farms have expressed concern over the violation of their sexual and reproductive health rights, saying their workplaces do not offer a safe environment for them.

Good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system.

It implies that people can have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.

To maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, people need access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice.

They must be informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.

In interviews on the sidelines of a recent workshop on gender policy which was facilitated by Emthonjeni Women`s Forum, women working on farms in the Umguza District of Matabeleland North province said working on farms is exposing them to many challenges.

They said most of them are not aware of their rights resulting in them being exploited.

“During our monthly cycle sometimes you will not be feeling well and not able to work, but our foremen do not understand. We are forced to work even when we are in pain related to our monthly cycle and the fact that most of the supervisors are men they do not understand us,” said Mrs Siyakhula Nkomo.

“They will tell you that there’s no one to replace you and some men even come to our bathrooms and they will profess that it was a mistake even though the bathrooms are clearly labeled that they are for females.”

She said their wages are also not enough to enable them to meet their family and sexual reproductive health needs.

“I have two girls who need sanitary pads monthly meaning we are three and just making ends meet is a challenge. Working in the farms is labour intensive and there is also sexual abuse from men in positions of power.”

Ms Casandra Ncube echoed Nkomo’s sentiments, saying there are no bathing facilities at their farms forcing most of them to delay changing their pads.

Ms Ncube said they are fearing contracting diseases due to the unhygienic conditions they are exposed to.

“There are no women friendly facilities at the farms where we can bathe during our cycle. Most of us stay far from our work place and we are forced to change the pad once a day because we do not have safe spaces,” she said.

“We start work early and knock off very late and our fear is that most of us may end up being exposed to diseases like cervical cancer.”

Ms Ncube appealed to the National Employment Council and their workers’ union to tackle their challenges.

Emthonjeni Women`s Forum monitoring and evaluation officer Ms Shirley Mabutho said their organisation is focusing on addressing gender equality at works places and held improve the welfare of women.

She said most women on farms are being sidelined when it comes to leadership positions.

“The gender policy which deals with workers at the farms is available but it is not being implemented.

The gender policy says there must be women in leadership positions, but you will find that the ratio of that is very low and as a result women are not represented at the highest level,” said Ms Mabutho.

“You will find that women share bathrooms with men which makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and crimes like rape. There are no sanitary bins in their workspaces which also makes it difficult to address the sexual right and reproductive health issues.”

Ms Mabutho said some of the women spend the whole day carrying their used sanitary pads.

“Some employers force women to work even when they are having period pains while most do not pay for maternity,” she said.

Ms Mabutho said there is a need to amend the gender policy so that it addresses mental health issues.

She said due to gender-based violence faced by women some have developed mental issues.

“There are many gaps in the gender policy which necessitated the need for them to be updated now and then. Mental health issues are not included in the gender policy even though many women face gender-based violence at home,” said Ms Mabutho.

“That same woman facing violence at home will be expected to be productive at work which is impossible. There is a need for employers to recognise that domestic violence is a workplace issue as well.”

Ms Mabutho said Emthonjeni Women`s Forum is implementing a five-year programme aimed at promoting gender equality in workplaces.

Chronicle

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