Towards an equal and safe workplace in the tea estate

This year the Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) successfully reached 60.000 of tea workers in India, 75% of them are women, about safe and empowering workplace. More than 300.000 community members were also reached about the issue of the violence against women in the workplace.

Around 700,000 women are working in the tea estates of Assam and West Bengal, India. Despite their indispensable role in producing more than 50% of tea in India, women workers often experience domestic violence and harassment in the tea estate environment, which often becomes the home, workplace, and community space for tea workers. Lack of awareness of care and protection mechanisms and ways to access in turn has led to low reporting and access.

A safe workplace for women is crucial. Through WSAF, in collaboration with partners, IDH addresses gender-based violence (GBV) issues and creates a safe and empowering environment place for women workers in the tea estate. A safe workplace ensures all workers are treated equally regarding their gender and are free from discrimination and any form of violence.

A multi-pronged approach has been adopted for the implementation of the Fund across the different stakeholders. A focus has been on creating awareness among workers on the aspects of gender, forms of gender-based violence, and the redressal mechanisms. Further, certain champions – change agents ­– have been identified from within the workers and trained to support the community in cases of gender-based violence.

It is also important to create awareness and connect the stakeholders about the existing organizations such as the District Social Welfare Department, One Stop Centre that helps provide counselling and short-term shelter support to survivors, District Legal Service Authority, and the helpline numbers at the district level. This will ensure sustainability and drive a long-term impact toward addressing violence against women and girls.

This year, WSAF together with 133 tea estates in India has conducted workshops with management, staff, workers, and adolescent groups to create safe communities and tea plantations for women and girls, along with preparing the legal framework and safety nets. Through these workshops, awareness is raised, enabling women to recognize instances of assault and take appropriate action.

“The safety walks with other women along with the welfare officer was very encouraging and empowering activity for all of us. Being able to talk about unsafe zones within our workplace and line with other women openly was something we never did before.” As shared by Sonja, one of staffs from Nonoi Tea Estate.

For community outreach, an effort has been to use creative tools and mediums for engagement and creating awareness on aspects of gender-based violence and the redressal mechanism. Engagement with adolescent girls and boys through different activities has also been done to increase their awareness and empower them.

During the #16DaysofActivism global event in 2022, WSAF uses Jhumur (an ancient tradition of the indigenous communities) song and dance, rallies, and awareness meetings to create awareness. Street theatre also becomes one of the creative mediums that connect well with audiences.

“This theatre narrated so well what women in the estates face and never talk about”, a participant worker shared after the theatre depicting sexual harassment at the tea gardens (workplace).

The tea sector has long-standing gender-marked roles with little to no representation of women in senior leadership positions. While there are women Sardarnis, staff members, etc, in most gardens now, the low representation of women in management positions poses as a potential risk towards the effectiveness of gender-based programs, especially those about sexual harassment of women at workplaces.

Encouraging more participation of women in leadership and management positions is the need of the hour to not only bridge the gender gaps but also to ensure that a sector like tea, with nearly 80 percent of workers being women, can provide safe working space to its employees. In 2023, we aim to strengthen and institutionalize the systems initiated and integrate with government programs and services, capture the impact learnings for larger sharing and visibility, ground WSAF in South India, building on results metrics to establish impact at the tea estate level. Such achievement will be the stepping-stone to bringing more collaboration and impact, especially on the tea estate in the future.