Investing in the Safety of Women and Girls in the Tea Value Chain – Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund

Violence against women and girls remains a widespread and persistent violation of human rights across the world. Despite numerous laws in India aimed at addressing such violence, the challenges of weak enforcement and deeply ingrained discriminatory social norms persist as significant obstacles.

The National Crime Records Bureau reveal alarming statistics, with 31,000 reported cases of rape in India in 2021, indicating an average of 86 rapes occurring daily. The National Family Health Survey V (NFHS V) highlights another concerning statistic, reporting that nearly 30 per cent of married women experienced sexual and physical violence from their spouses. Women with disabilities face unique challenges in this context. A recent Lancet Global Health study, published on December 15th, 2023, emphasizes the issue of child marriage in India, revealing that one in five girls and one in six boys are still married below the legal age of 18 years.

The Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) spotlights the crucial role of addressing Violence Against Women (VAW) in the tea value chain of India to achieve sustainable business growth. It does this by leading initiatives to showcase the return on investment in women’s safety for the industry. Aligned with the United Nations’ International Women’s Day theme for 2024, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,’ WSAF strives to drive positive change, fostering a culture of inclusivity and progress within the tea sector.

So many of our women have gone through harassment at the workplace, but often, it would end up with a verbal warning by the manager. But the risk of retaliation or recurrence was always there. But today, we see that our issues are instantly taken up by the management and also reach the concerned authorities who can help us, as we now know who is responsible for what.

– Sunny Munda, Worker, Mokalbari Tea Estate.

In the tea gardens of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala where WSAF operates, the aforementioned national figures are mirrored. Challenges include migration and trafficking, teenage pregnancy, cybercrime, and the sexual abuse of children, all of which contribute to the difficulties faced by an already vulnerable industry. This cycle of violence is further compounded by factors such as low literacy among women, neglect of girls’ education, the scarcity of schools, early marriages, and limited mobility, which, together with the lack of accessibility to services, exacerbate the issues. Notably, in India, more than 70% of tea garden workers are women, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive efforts to address and rectify these deeply entrenched challenges.

WSAF, in collaboration with tea buyers/brands and tea-producing companies, is actively addressing violence against women by enhancing the capacity of workers, staff, and management through trainings, safety assessments, and awareness drives to respond effectively to instances of violence. Simultaneously, efforts are underway to cultivate understanding among adolescent boys and girls, encouraging them to reject gender-discriminatory norms and practices. WSAF also engages with government departments to ensure that essential services (legal, welfare, counselling, etc) are accessible for women and girls in tea gardens. Embracing technology and social media tools, WSAF is spearheading a large-scale awareness campaign.

Addressing violence against women and girls is crucial for fostering a healthy and productive organization, with a significant impact on the mental and physical well-being of employees. Additionally, tackling this issue can contribute to reducing absenteeism among employees.

stated Mr. Vikram Gulia, CEO of Amalgamated Plantations (2nd largest tea-producing company in India), highlighting the valued partnership with WSAF.

The increased awareness among men, women, and communities has resulted in the establishment of gender equality platforms for voicing concerns. This enables women workers to openly express their apprehensions, allowing management to provide the necessary and timely support or referrals. This proactive approach not only facilitates prompt and suitable action against offenders but also acts as a preventive measure against future incidents.

In my interactions with women leaders from our tea estates, I have witnessed a positive transformation since the initiation of the WSAF. With each encounter, I have noticed a clear increase in the optimism and confidence of these women. They have become more determined to address the persistent issues of violence and harassment that have long affected their lives.

– Mr Ajay Jalan, Mokalbari Tea.

What we have seen in Goodricke gardens in Dooars, is we are getting lot more responses from the community. Our women are happy to know the protection mechanism, law and external stakeholders like DLSA which makes them feel empowered. The approach and tools are very useful, I believe, through this programme, women will be empowered and safe.

– Dr. Rajen Baraik , Group Liaison officer, Goodricke Tea

Empowering women ambassadors through increased leadership roles in the gardens creates a safer working environment for all women workers. Showcasing tea estates that have successfully implemented such measures can inspire others to follow suit.

emphasized Ms Madhuri Nanda, Director- South Asia, Rainforest Alliance, and Ms. Ranjana Das, Country Manager- India, Ethical Tea Partnership.

Mr. Bipul Borah, Senior Social Impact Manager – Asia, Twinings, has suggested that “WSAF has been able to create awareness amongst the workers, staff and management of the tea estates in India on the issues related to Gender Based Violence helping in forming internal committees for prevention of sexual harassment in the tea estates, working towards changing peoples’ mindset on gender, reinforcing the realization on the importance of creating safer space for women and girls living and working in the estates. There are however needs for having concrete milestones with indicators to measure the progress in addressing gender-based discriminations and violence. A mental health and psycho-social support component also needed to merge with such program to facilitate holistic social change for women.”

Although there has been significant advancements towards improving safety, achieving a comprehensive transformation requires additional time, and resources, necessitating ongoing collaborative efforts to continually build awareness and trust.

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