However, in India, the state of Assam ranks second highest for cognizable crimes against women at the rate of 131 (NCRB 2016).
The tea sector, like many other sectors is not exempt from gender-based violence at the workplace. A study by the UN Women (1200 respondents), indicated that women experience physical, sexual, and verbal abuse in and off the plantations in Assam. They may also experience sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in workplace settings and public spaces.
35% women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) or non-partner sexual violence. This is not only devastating for survivors of violence or their families and communities, but also entails high social and economic costs. Numerous studies have shown that children growing up with violence are more likely to either become survivors themselves or perpetrators of violence in the future.
Unilever- UN Women Programme Overview
UN Women is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Unilever has partnered with UN Women for the ‘Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls Programme’ in Assam India, Kericho in Kenya and Tanzania. The project is designed in line with Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) and its commitment towards adhering to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The programme is an innovative and catalytic initiative aimed at preventing and responding to issues through strategic alliances with tea producer companies, smallholder farmers, communities, governmental bodies and local organizations.
Empowering 5 million women by advancing opportunities in our operations, promoting safety, providing up-skilling and expanding opportunities in our value chain.
The partnership involves development and implementation of a research and human rights-based violence prevention programme targeting women and male smallholder farmers and plantation workers and their families in Unilever’s extended supply chain in Assam, India.
Program Objective and Expected Outcomes
To ensure that women and girls in Assam are socially, economically and politically empowered to live their lives, free from any kind of gender-based violence.
The interventions implemented and the lessons learned in this programme (Assam and Kenya) have contributed to the development of ‘A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces.’ Informed by experience in the tea sector, the framework will be adapted to other country contexts in the tea industry, as well as to other supply chains. Subsequently, these form the “Guide to Support the Implementation of the Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces”.
The ultimate objective is to mobilize collective action amongst suppliers in the tea industry, scale up the program and ensure equal rights free from any violence and harassment, while promoting equal opportunities for men and women in the tea industry.
The major outcome areas which the project will contribute to are:
- Propagating favourable social norms, attitudes and behaviours promoted at community and individual levels to prevent Violence Against Women.
- Empowering women and girls to recover from violence by availing the accessible and quality essential services.
- Ensuring a legislative and policy environment is in place and translated into action (in line with international standards on ending violence against women and other forms of discrimination).
Snapshots of Programme Intervention in India
We began with a scoping study that identified the forms and nature of violence occurring in private, public and workspaces in select programme sites. This was then supplemented by an extensive baseline conducted across 10 tea estates.
Currently, in its pilot phase, the programme is being implemented across six tea estates with McLeod Russel in Assam. It is aimed to directly benefit 15,000 workers and community members (both women and men).
Out of these, so far, we have directly reached out to 12,000 workers. With the help of social media outreach, approximately 1,48,050 people are now aware of our initiatives.
Adopting a survivor-centric empowerment approach that includes women survivors of violence as ‘Agents of change’ and ‘Equal partners’ in the journey of making agrarian supply chains safe, one of the pivotal asks from them was to have a platform to discuss their experiences on violence against women and girls. Thus, the Jugnu clubs were born!
‘Jugnu’ means fireflies, symbolic for the torchbearer role they perform in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls.
Each Jugnu club has 10-12 members being trained by the UN Women to better understand issues of violence and respond to women and girls in distress. They are also being given information on women-specific legislations, programmes and schemes to disseminate among other community members.
So far, 63 Jugnu members in six tea estates have been trained and have undertaken women’s safety audit training to identify vulnerable spots in and around their tea estates. They meet on a regular basis and act as first responders in cases of violence, supporting the survivor and facilitating her access to the services.
Laying emphasis on the prevention of violence, the producer partners’ accountability, and compliance on the national and legal frameworks with regards to The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2013 (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), interactive capacity building trainings are being organized with senior executives, deputy managers, welfare officers, members of the internal committee, hospital, factory and school staff.
Sessions in progress
The sessions help:
- In raising awareness through a participatory approach
- Understanding various forms of workplace misconduct that amounts to sexual harassment
- Learning how to facilitate the complaints redressal and duties of the employer, among other key provisions of the law
The Futuristic Scope
The UN Women has reviewed the producer partners’ policy on sexual harassment at the workplace to identify gaps and provide recommendations for revision, to be compliant with the law of the land.
Youth in each of the six programme sites are being trained in theatre and art-based performances to better understand the nature and extent of violence that women and girls experience, as well as the normalization and prevalent impunity.
Drawing from the Global Women’s Safety Framework, the programme partnered with the state-level judicial services to enhance capacities of the Assam State Legal Services Authorities (ASLSA) and District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) on women-specific legislation for improving the quality of response and support to women survivors of violence.
Empowering the women to live a violence-free life
Currently, the first of its kind Legal Aid Centre is being set up in a tea estate in Udalguri in partnership with ASLSA, producer partner, and UN Women. The centre will provide first response services to women survivors of violence in addition to educating them on their rights and entitlements, including government schemes and programmes. It is envisioned to be sustained as a women’s resource centre. Parallelly, the programme is also advocating with the government set up a one-stop-centre in the district as part of the Government of India’s Sakhi Scheme.
The Scale-Up Plan
The current phase of the programme ends in May 2020. In the final stage of phase two, we are designing a definite plan to extend the workplace women safety to more suppliers within the tea industry. We aim to cover about 25% of women tea workers in India by 2022.