Sexual Harassments in the Floriculture industry in Uganda- Their experiences
Aug 16, 2021
In a study done by Akina Mama in 2020 interesting experiences were shared o sexual harassment in the floriculture industry in Uganda.
Floriculture is a branch of horticulture that is concerned with the propagation of ornamental plants, specifically focusing on flowering plants. Uganda started growing flowers as a commodity in 1992, and it is one of the fastest growing segments of the agricultural sector employing mainly youth and women. The flower farms had a total of 7,335 employees by end of May 2020, and 70% of the employees are women. Uganda’s National Development Plan (NDPII) prioritised the flower subsector as one of the 5 top major cash crop export drivers for the period 2015/20. The flower sector generated 55million dollars in export earnings in 2018 compared to 40million US dollars in 2015.
A Gender Scan undertaken by the Uganda Workers Education Association (UWEA) in 2019 indicated that the major flower companies have developed and/or are developing policies and procedures on Sexual harassment. There are concerns about how accessible the policies are in terms of language and presentation. The Gender scan report also noted that not all flower farms have distributed copies of SH policies. In addition, whilst structures have been put in place to address incidents of SH, these structures are not always effective for instance some of the companies have male human resource officers that not all women are comfortable reporting incidents of SH to, and in some instances, committees have been put in place but do not have women representatives. Another key challenge is translating the content of the SH policies into changed behaviour
There were four main reasons provided for women not formally reporting incidents of Sexual Harassments:
1. Patriarchal culture that is permissive of Sexual Harassment: A key factor that may reduce the likelihood of reporting sexual harassment is a highly male dominated organization and patriarchal culture. In very patriarchal work cultures, some men use SH as way to subjugate women and women for fear of retaliation play along with sexual harassment. Women may even start to adopt the same behaviors as men to fit in and be “one of the guys.” This creates an irony that women may be ignoring or down playing sexual harassment to gain access to the “boys’ club” while men are using sexual harassment to keep women out.
2. Evidentiary requirements: The respondents expressed the concern about the evidentiary requirements for Sexual Harassment. They mentioned that very often the incidents happen in seclusion and there are no witnesses. They were also concerned that if the case were reported, and it came down to their word or the word of the man in question, then they thought that the men’s version would be taken over theirs.
3. Fear of Victim Shaming and/or Blaming: The other reason that respondents gave for not reporting incidents of SH was the fear of victim shaming and/or blaming. They were concerned that their fellow employees would stigmatise them and even blame them for reporting what could be considered ‘simple things.’ A number of the respondents also emphasised that they would not report incidents of Sexual Harassment because they were afraid of implications for their marriages. Specifically, if they thought their husbands would either get upset with them, and even ask them to stop working.
4. Economic vulnerability: The respondents stated that their economic vulnerability often led them to succumb to unwanted sexual advances and other forms of Sexual Harassment. In particular, the women in the flower farms whose institutions have clear policies on Sexual Harassment, have taken action on Sexual Harassment incidents, and have also provided platforms for them to lead and express themselves, also mentioned that their economic situation often makes them vulnerable. They pointed out that often times, they will accept a man’s sexual advances if he offers her money.
According to one respondent; “… you know the situation nowadays. It is women who are responsible for looking after families. We have to pay the bills, pay schools fees and make sure that our children are fed, this is whether or not you have a husband. So we always need money, especially just before children go back to school. So if a man is making sexual advances and gives me money, then I will give in, because I do not have any other access to money... However, if he continues with his advances and I am no longer interested, then I am afraid to accuse him of Sexual Harassment because I took money from him the first time, and I am also afraid that the he will tell my husband…”
When asked about opportunities to access salary advances and/or other loans from the company, the respondents mentioned that whilst they used to have access, this is now a lot more difficult. The company has placed a number of conditions including having a guarantor, providing medical forms and/or death certificates, where applicable, in order to obtain a loan. The respondents mentioned that these conditions were cumbersome. These conditions also apply to access to funds from their own savings. They mentioned that they understand the need for some conditions, and recommended that the stringent conditions could be applied to loans of higher amounts. This experience demonstrates that providing women with voice and opportunities for leadership, and yet not listening and addressing their structural concerns, and not fostering their economic independence still renders them vulnerable to Sexual Harassment