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Women’s Voices from Kenya. Maggie Opondo University of Nairobi Department of Geography & Environmental Studies. Kenya’s Cut Flower Industry. Globalization’s success story Oldest and most successful in Africa 2 nd largest foreign exchange earner Employment (40,000-50,000)

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Women s voices from kenya l.jpg

Women’s Voices from Kenya

Maggie Opondo

University of Nairobi

Department of Geography & Environmental Studies


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Kenya’s Cut Flower Industry

  • Globalization’s success story

  • Oldest and most successful in Africa

  • 2nd largest foreign exchange earner

  • Employment (40,000-50,000)

  • Feminized and flexible labor strategies

  • High levels of non-permanent work



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Power structures

  • Supply chain relationships – competition, buyer control, intense pressure

  • Pushing down the risks for volumes and prices buyers => suppliers/producers => workers

  • Climate of powerlessness and uncertainty

  • Precariously employed


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Limiting workers’ participation?

  • Insecure forms of employment (temporary, casual, migrant and seasonal)

  • Compulsory and excessive overtime

    “last year I had a baby and could even go back at midnight and the child’s health was really affected. There is a time I stayed for two days without my child because I would leave early in the morning and get back home very late at night”.


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Limiting workers’ participation?

  • Supervisor abuse

    “pregnancy is not in the hands but in the stomach” (Female workers imitate male supervisor deriding light duties for expectant mothers)

  • Health and safety

    “my baby refused to breastfeed because my milk was smelling of chemicals” (Breastfeeding mother)


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Limiting workers’ participation?

  • Restriction of reproductive rights

    “most of us here have abortions, even at eight months to avoid the risk of being sacked” (Female casual worker)

  • Sexual harassment

    “when a male supervisor seduces a female worker and this doesn’t bear fruit, he can use ‘thorax’ (i.e. job power to win that female worker” (Female worker)


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Limiting workers’ participation?

  • Living wage?

    “It is not enough at all. For housing I pay KSh 400, school fees are about KSh 500 per month, food about KSh 1500 , water about KSh 200, clothing about KSh 600, and sickness which varies and since the salary is about KSh 3000 per month, then I strain [to make ends meet] ” (Female worker)


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Empowering workers

  • Participatory social auditing effective in uncovering workplace issues & gender issues

  • Ensures authentic information and involves marginalized groups of workers

  • Builds trust and promotes dialogue, and expose workplace issues

  • Empowers workers


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In the struggle together? – civil society

  • NGOs increasingly visible – flower campaign

  • Trade union apathy

    “It is as if the union the unions just want money from us”

  • Role play

    Entire unionizable workforce sacked and replaced with new employees, without the union taking action

  • Gender committees in 2002 - one gender committee & in (2006) several

  • Transnational alliances of civil society organisations


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Do codes make a difference?

  • Gender relations

  • Globalization

  • North-south relations

  • CSR/Codes dictate who participates and whose voices count

  • Tackling structural issues to improve women workers working conditions


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