On May 21, people around the world celebrate International Tea Day. The day brings attention to the history and profound cultural and economic significance of tea, emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts to achieve sustainable tea production and consumption.
This year Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) leveraged the opportunity to raise awareness among governments, tea lovers, and citizens about the impact on workers and tea planters, advocating for sustainable tea production and consumption.
WSAF, along with implementing partners – Contact Base, Seven Sisters Development Assistance, Sakshi, Innovative Change Collaborative Services, and Delta Right Advisors, observed the day by organizing discussions and outreach events on women safety in tea sector across various locations in Assam.
These events were conducted in collaboration with the tea estates, unions, local government, and other tea industry stakeholders to foster collective action in creating safe and empowered workplaces for women in the tea industry. The shared experiences and insights from these events highlighted emergent and novel impacts from program implementation and areas that require collective action. The collaborative approach of tea communities, tea estate management, and local governments has aided the program in finding cooperative solutions and bringing about changes not only in the physical environment but also in the narrative and perspective of current policies.
Currently implemented in 311 Tea Estates across Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, the program actively engages with state and local government departments to strengthen response mechanisms for women’s safety in tea gardens.
Highlights from the events:
Evolution of understanding of women’s safety issues: It was noted that the understanding of women’s safety among women workers and tea estate management has evolved beyond addressing crimes against women to creating a safe environment where women feel secure and supported. This broader perspective includes the role of family, community, and management in providing guidance and assistance.
Visible impact of WSAF: The tea garden management and tea workers emphasized distinct and visible impacts of the WSAF program in tea estates, including increased vocalization and reporting of gender-based violence, improved worker-management relationships, reduced absenteeism, and enhanced awareness among women and communities about women’s safety.
Broader impact and engagement: The events noted the broader impact of the WSAF program beyond individual tea estates, with interest from other tea estates and engagement with the government, tea associations, and civil society organizations. They also highlighted the engagement of the civil society forum with men’s attention towards gender-based violence as a commendable approach.
Collaborative actions: The complementary roles of change agents and tea estate management in addressing issues of women’s safety in the tea sector were brought to the fore. Change agents have been taking initiatives in organizing awareness programs and engaging with the community, while management actively supports them. This collaboration fosters a conducive environment for change and benefits both workers and management. We need to involve more men in addressing gender-based violence, encourage safety mapping at the local level, and strive for more accurate and localized solutions to address safety concerns. The significance of infrastructural changes, emerged as an outcome of safety assessments, in ensuring women’s safety within tea estates, especially during nighttime, was discussed. Collaboration with local government to avail government schemes for roads, lights, and toilets in the tea gardens is helpful.
Importance of gender diversity: It has also been observed that having more women in management and staff roles can contribute to security and approachability for the workers. By promoting gender diversity at all levels, a more supportive and empowering environment can be created.
Overall, the events of the observation gave prominence to the progress made in understanding and addressing women’s safety in tea estates, while also emphasizing the need for continued efforts, collaboration, infrastructural changes, and gender diversity to create a safer and more inclusive environment for women. It promotes women’s safety and has the potential to create a wave of change.