Gender Business case in Ethiopian Flower sector

At global level there is ample and growing evidence that investing in the female workforce (applying gender sensitive policies and practices; respecting human rights and nondiscrimination; promote education, training and professional development of women, etc) aligns well with business priorities.

Since 2014 the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA), IDH, the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI) and BSR have invested in gender interventions on Ethiopian floriculture farms with encouraging results.

This report presents the findings and analysis of a Gender Business case evaluation in the Ethiopian flower sector. The research was conducted by Fair & Sustainable Consulting in close collaboration with IDH, FSI, BSR and EHPEA, and with financial support of ICCO.

The Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA), IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative and Business for Social Responsibility have invested in gender interventions on Ethiopian floriculture farms within the Empowering the Source program.

The Pilot- “Empowering the Source 1” was implemented from December 2014 to January 2016 in 26 pilot farms, and a second (2-year) project “Empowering the Source 2”, is underway since January 2017 providing further support to 12 pilot and 30 new farms.

The Empowering the Source program include two levels of support to flower companies: strengthening workplace systems (e.g. HR policy, establishing a gender committee) and building capacities and supporting worker’s needs on various topics.

  1. Right of young mothers for at least one-hour breastfeeding time per day
  2. Increased awareness on gender sexual harassment, reproductive health, contraceptives and safety
  3. Maternity leave increased from 3 to 4 months
  4. Reduction of reported cases of gender based violence, after a first rise
  5. Increased self-confidence of women and improved negotiation skills
  6. Improved family planning, awareness on and use of contraceptives
  7. Implementation of gender policy & procedures
  8. Better access to first aid and health care services in (farm owned) clinics or hospitals, and increased HIV/AIDS awareness & testing
  9. Workers know the Gender committee (members) and its role much better
  10. The working culture is very respectful. Increased equality and respect between men and women
  • Union, workers and standards requests
  • Decision by farm management to improve their workers’ satisfaction and to reduce turnover
  • Establishment of gender committee (GC)
  • Awareness raising and training by GC, NGO’s, Bureau of Labor and social affairs
  • Zero-tolerance: severe punishment by farm
  • Negotiations by workers’ union, gender committee and certifiers
  • Raised awareness about GBV and women rights through EHPEA project
  • Increased confidence of women due to GC support
  • Clear HR policy and enforcement by farm (EHPEA project)
  • Corporate leadership/positive attitude towards gender equality, due to EHPEA training, standards’ requirements, and intrinsic motivation
  • GC’s awareness raising and trainings on gender and worker’s rights (by EHPEA and others)
  • EHPEA project and management will
  • Management and owner’s full support and active communication
  • Follow up from GC and supervision at the workplace
  • Corporate leadership on gender equality and respecting all workers
Together with our partner Fair & Sustainable Consulting, we conducted research to test that gender interventions in Ethiopian flower farms have lead to satisfied workers leading to improved performance of the business. In the previous chapters we have highlighted the top 1o changes seen. A more detailed summary of the findings can be found below:


The gender interventions by the EHPEA projects were generally found relevant and effective. Establishing the Gender Committees, preferably with female and male members, and training of farm managers and gender committees were key activities with positive impact. The quality and completeness of the Gender & HR policies that were developed varied.

Significant Changes

  • Improved labor conditions affecting women in particular, such as:
    – allocation of breastfeeding time,
    – maternity leave
  • Improved health and safety affecting women in particular:
    – reduction of reported Gender Based Violence cases. The initial rise of reported cases was probably related to the increased self-confidence. Aggregated data of 4 farms show the number of GBV cases decreased by 32% in 2017 compared to 2015.
    – clothing, health care
  • Improved gender relations and women friendly culture (awareness)
  • Increased confidence and skills of women
  • Improved relationship employees – management (through Gender Committee)
  • Improved status and position of women ( access to income and employment , status in community)

Farm data show that the percentage of women in management positions increased from 26.3%  to 36.7% (2013 to 2017), hence an increase of nearly 40%. Their total number more than doubled from 20 in 2013 (out of 76 total) to 44 in 2017 (out of 120).

A mix of gender interventions and other measures taken by the farms and undertaken by projects (EHPEA and others), as well as external factors, have contributed to the above mentioned changes.

Key causes

  • Corporate leadership by farm owner/management towards gender and workers
  • Establishing and strengthening gender committees
  • Training and awareness raising on gender issues, and effective gender HR policies
  • Increased attention for gender related issues in the government and international arena, including standard setting organizations.
  • The role of EHPEA, supporting NGOs and unions were also mentioned as drivers for change. Since late 2014 EHPEA and the two phases of the Empower the Source program, supported by expert advice from BSR, have played a pivotal role in supporting the farm management on gender equality activities.

Other findings

  • While farm managers stated that the farms have considerably reduced the use of chemicals and Integrated Pest Management was introduced in the last 3-5 years, the exposure to high amounts of chemicals was still highly rumored and has created tensions among workers and the surrounding communities.
  • The use of safety cloth and tools improved (one of the MSCs), but it was also reported that part of the young male workers think the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is not fashionable and too warm to wear in the greenhouse.
  • Lack of sufficient budget may hamper motivated gender committees to fulfill their role and implement their annual plans.


About the research

Fair & Sustainable Consulting is a consultancy firm and social enterprise specialized in value chain analysis and development. Fair & Sustainable has thorough on the ground experience on gender in agricultural value chains and CSR: research, development of tools and training for a wide array of clients, including IDH, GIZ, FAO, ICCO, HIVOS and AgriProFocus.

The Gender Business case research was conducted by team of Fair & Sustainable Consulting (Netherlands) and Fair & Sustainable Ethiopia consisting of Hibiete Tesfaye, Ayalew Abebe, Jingwei Ling and Jochem Schneemann (team leader) from February to August 2018, with a field mission in May 2018.

At some farms the labor productivity increased, due to the introduction of productivity bonuses and external factors (crop, weather etc). Staff turnover and absenteeism were mainly influenced by the unstable situation in the country, alternative income options, and absence of childcare. Hence we did not find a direct correlation between gender interventions and the selected business indicators.
However our study did find positive results for workers, the majority women, such as: improved relationships among workers (f/m) and with management, more satisfied and motivated workers, more healthy workers, reduced number of reported and resolved gender based violence cases, and more women in management positions. These changes indicate improved job satisfaction, which, according to our hypothesis, leads to improved business performance and ultimately increased company profits. This is confirmed by most farm owners and managers who stated that the (gender) investments pay off, and most see gender interventions as rational and necessary for them to stay in business, not in the last place because the majority (up to 80%) of their workers is female.

What farms can do

  • Endorse the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), and use these as a guide for action
  • Further improve and complement their gender sensitive HR policies, grievance procedures and policy and measures to reduce gender based violence, and ensure the required budget
  • Have a mixed female/male composition of gender committees
  • Develop opportunities for female greenhouse workers to earn a substantial bonus for their work in the greenhouse such as crop monitoring, harvesting, which is key for final product quality
  • Explore how to create day care facilities for mothers, as it will increase satisfaction levels and the rate of return of mothers after maternity leave
  • Communicate in and off farm about Integrated Pest Management and the (reduced) use and effects of chemical pesticides, including effects on reproductive health
  • Explore further how to ensure the consistent use of Personal Protection Equipment
  • Drinking water: collaborate with specialized actors to enhance the year-round adequate access to clean drinking water at the farm and in surrounding communities

What supporting organizations can do

  • Promote exchange and learning between farms (staff, gender committee and manager levels)
  • Support the improvement of gender sensitive HR policy documents and their implementation
  • Develop a sector strategy with the farms to communicate pro-actively to workers and surrounding communities about reduced use of chemical pesticides and Integrate pest management (IPM) practices
  • Develop a sex-disaggregated data collection system to record and monitor costs and effects/benefits of gender interventions in a consistent way; hence generating relevant management information for learning and improving.

IDH and FSI, together with their partners of the Gender Working Group, will develop a list of key indicators to keep track and monitor changes over time. These indicators are recommended by companies working on promoting gender equality and will help to communicate about the efforts taken and results reached in this area.

By doing this, IDH aims to support individual companies and the sector itself to monitor progress over time, quantify investments and document results reached with the ultimate goal of proving the business case for companies to invest in the empowerment of women.

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