In the run up to International Women’s Day, we are featuring some of the countless inspiring women who work in Fairtrade farms and communities. Today, meet Agnes Chebii, a mother of four and leader of a team of workers at Fairtrade certified flower farm Karen Roses in Kenya.
Agnes Chebii is a strong woman with many talents. The 41-year old has been working at the flower farm Karen Roses in Kenya (Fairtrade certified since 2009) for 20 years. On top of that, Agnes takes care of four children, leads a team of 30 workers, is chair of the Fairtrade gender committee and organizes the choir of the flower farm.
When she started working at the farm, Agnes would not have dared to dream that a woman would be allowed to take on this much responsibility. She has experienced how the farm changed after certification and the impact Fairtrade has on the lives of workers.
Education: the key to success
Fairtrade is dedicated to making equal access to education and the economic empowerment of women a reality. Whereas promotions used to be awarded primarily to men, today the entire workforce at Karen Roses has the same career opportunities. Vacancies are advertised publicly and every employee can apply for them.
Financed by funds from the Fairtrade Premium, Agnes was able to take part in training courses and to continue her education. In addition to occupational safety and management courses, she also attended advanced training on gender, which enabled her to take the next step: she became chair of the gender committee at Karen Roses.
Clear boundaries to prevent harassment
Many cooperatives and plantations within the Fairtrade system form gender committees, to meet the gender equality requirements set out in the Fairtrade Standards.
Employees at Karen Roses can bring problems or allegations of sexual harassment or assult to the gender committee. The committee members investigate incidents, speak to those involved and, if the allegations are confirmed, take appropriate steps – right up to immediate termination of the employment relationship. “The management of the farm supports us a lot in this type of incident. If needed, we go one level up to the board,” reports Agnes.
New self-confidence for women
Agnes Chebii and many of her colleagues have seized the opportunities that came along with the farm’s Fairtrade certification. The life of women has noticeably changed – not only on the farm, but also in the surroundings. Before the Fairtrade certification, women were resigned to more traditional discriminatory treatment. Now they are more confidently standing up for their rights.
“The women in our community have understood that they can do anything that men do. Look at me: I used to be a simple flower worker. Today I am well educated and work in a leading position.”
A promising future thanks to the Fairtrade Premium
Agnes’s four children are her greatest pride. Thanks to the Fairtrade Premium – the additional amount that Fairtrade cooperatives and plantations receive on top of the selling price – all of them were able to attend a good primary school. Her eldest, Evans, studies journalism at the Mount Kenya University – a level of education that would have been utterly unthinkable without a Fairtrade Premium scholarship.
The worker-elected Fairtrade Premium Committee at Karen Roses decides democratically how to use the Premium funds each year. In addition to scholarships, the Premium financed some construction projects for workers’ housing, including metal roofs to better keep out the rain.
Singing to the tune of Fairtrade
Not only during work, but also in her free time, Agnes Chebii is committed to harmonious coexistence in her community. She leads the Karen Roses choir, in which farm workers pursue a passion for singing together. The choir and the building for rehearsals were made possible by Fairtrade Premium funds. The inscription on the t-shirt that Agnes wears for the choir rehearsal could serve as a heading for her and the development of the entire workforce: “Singing to the tune of Fairtrade.”