Let’s celebrate the women who produce the food on our plates

8 March 2015

Ever since the 1900s, women workers have been openly celebrating their economic, political and social achievements. Starting in labour movements in North America, spreading across Europe and now flourishing in all countries around the world, these celebrations are marked by this one special event every year on 8 March: International Women’s Day. In between all these great celebrations, this day makes us harshly aware of the fact that in many cultures and countries, women are not benefiting from opportunities equal to men and are often a marginalised work force exposing them to live in poverty. This is why Fairfood International puts particular emphasis on the rights of women workers and farmers in our projects and campaigns.

In our work with communities in food supply chains in the Global South, we notice the marginalisation of women every day. Although globalisation in food production has had impact on work opportunities for women in terms of employment, they are seen only as docile, cheap labour for the fields and the factory. This has put more challenges upon gender relationships. While men are retained in authoritative positions or positions that require advanced skill, women continue to be seen as a labour force for the lowest-skilled positions. Furthermore, much of the employment of women workers we see in the food supply chains we work in is informal: without legal documentation, let alone permanent contracts. Ever more, this exposes them to suffering poor working conditions, job insecurity and often a lack of access to basic labour rights such as holidays or maternity leave.

“We were not allowed to take maternity leave. When we are near the due date, we have to resign. The employer doesn’t accept workers who are pregnant.” – Lin works at a peeling shed in Thailand. She has no contract with the company she works for and earns less than a Living Wage.

Additional marginalisation can occur as women in the Global South are still the main family caretaker. It is important to realise that while women are able to work, their duties have to be carried out in addition to household and family responsibilities. Where Western countries over the past decades have seen an increase in access to home and child care, as well as decent salaries and/or government support that can enable stay-at-home moms or dads, this is not the case in many of the countries that supply our basic food. In our work in Morocco, we see female workers struggling to combine work and household tasks.

“I get up at 4:00h then I prepare lunch for my kids and hurry off to work. When it is school time, I give them a call to wake them up. (…) When I finish work, I get home by 17:00h. There is no time left for house chores.” Fatima works at a vegetable company in Morocco. She has five kids in the range of 7 to 17 years old.

It has become apparent that as opportunities for women to work are increasing, this does not mean they benefit from it. In our projects in countries like Thailand and Morocco, where women are increasingly contributing to the production of the food we eat in the Global North, Fairfood International is putting extra emphasis on the rights of women workers, so as to ensure new situations of marginalisation and gender inequality can be halted. Even though women’s contribution to our economies are becoming ever more important, to date, they have had little or no recognition at all in many producing countries. Let’s now turn this situation around and celebrate the contribution women food workers make to the food on our plates. Every day.

If you want to help women food workers in Morocco and Thailand, as well as the Philippines, please sign our Living Wage pledge.

To read more about the work we do in Morocco, please refer to our Project Page

Want to know more about what we do in Thailand? Read our Project Page here

Meet our women food workers, have a look at our Media Gallery below:

 

Tomato picker Zahra earns a poverty wage for her backbreaking work picking and packing the tomatoes that are sold in European supermarkets.

Tomato picker Maryam earns a poverty wage for her backbreaking work picking and packing the tomatoes that are sold in European supermarkets.

Delegation of group of 110 fired shrimp workers, Thailand-web
Delegation of fired shrimp workers, mostly women, near Samut Sakhon, Thailand.

Fired and pregnant shrimp worker Sandar Lwin-web
Fired and pregnant shrimp worker Sandar Lwin (21), sitting in her living quarters (12m2).

Shrimp workers sorting shrimp at the Mahachai Market - web Shrimp workers sorting shrimp at the Mahachai Market, Samut Sakhon, Thailand.

Tomato picker Fatima Jlam (37) in the Souss Massa Drâa region in Morocco-web
Tomato picker Fatima Jlam (37) in the Souss Massa Drâa region in Morocco.

Hanan L'Fadili (25) at work in packaging station-web
Hanan L’Fadili (25) at work in packaging station, Morocco.

Women working in a tomato greenhouse in the Souss Massa Drâa region in Morocco
Women working in a tomato greenhouse in the Souss Massa Drâa region in Morocco.