The production of tea occurs in a male dominated industry. Don’t get me wrong, women often outnumber men in the tea fields, but gender inequality is rife for women in tea. Globally, 80% of food is grown by women, but only 2% of the land is owned by women. Also in the tea industry 50-80% is produced by women while not having equal access to land, lower wages and lack of career opportunities.
Often as consumers we do not know much about the women behind our tea. That is why we would like you to meet Alice, Neha and Renuka, three women in tea from our partner farms in Malawi, India and Sri Lanka. Despite their different geographic locations, education levels and positions – the challenges are real!
Alice started working at Satemwa as a supervisor 7 years ago. She passionately talks about tea and her job as a production manager and she also highlights the difficulty she faces as a woman.
“It is a challenging position, because according to our culture, we women, we taken as low.”
Also Neha, co-owner of the Doke tea estate in India, expressed similar sentiments about the role that is prescribed to her being a woman:
“I am a woman: I am supposed to be a good wife, a good mother and a good daughter-in-law, what I am doing right now is just a hobby. People have actually said that to me.”
Social norms translate in the workplace and show the gender differences plus additional challenges.
Alice had to prove that she is capable for the job only because she is a female manager.
“People were not used to work with a female manager.They are used to work with male managers, so when I started here there was a bit of resistance from others, but after some time they realised there is no difference.”
You may think that the challenges depend on the position you hold but that is not true. Also as a co-owner of the Doke farm in India, Neha shared similar experiences.
“For a lady to work in any position in the Indian tea industry is a very tough job. Nobody takes you seriously, your opinion does not matter. It is a challenging job and I look forward to a new challenge every time. I plan to change that perspective of people with the work that I do and the teas that I make.”
An important aspect for women in tea to thrive is the support of the organization, creating opportunities together. Satemwa did not only provide Alice with a leadership position but actively supported her and changed the behavior of its employees through training.
“With training from managers, top management, the people started cooperating”
Besides the struggles that women face in the tea industry it has also given them opportunities.
Our partner farm Amba in Sri Lanka also enables leadership skills for women. Renuka is one of the AMBA members. She started working in the tea industry as a child labourer so she could take care of her 6 younger siblings. She joined AMBA in 2008. Since then she has become skilled in all aspects of the tea production; plucking, rolling, oxidation and drying.
“My life is getting much better, thanks to the increased opportunities that AMBA has brought to our lives”
Renuka’s perseverance and ambition combined with AMBA’s approach towards shared profits and women in tea have resulted in better opportunities and living conditions for her family. She now is able to send her children to school.
All these ambitious women in tea are passionate about their work, and want to improve their craftwomanship and keep moving forward.
As Neha mentions:
“Every time I receive an order it brings a smile to my face. I like planning the development of the tea garden. Facing challenges head on and learning from them.”
Beleaf & Co chooses to partner with farms that actively promote and support gender equality. Women in the tea industry face numerous challenges and for them to be given opportunities and support is one of the first steps. Sip your cup consciously and support these women in tea!