Women workers in the agricultural sector: a symposium organized by LDA Tunisia

أغسطس 31, 2020

Gender, Inclusion & Human rights

We receive and publish from Afaf Zaddem, delegate of the LDA Tunisia:

“Agriculture is unquestionably one of the pillars of the Tunisian economy, public policies have continued to aim at improving agricultural profitability without thinking of integrating in their visions and action plans solutions oriented towards improving the working conditions of people working in this sector and mainly women agricultural workers.

In fact, the agricultural workforce is mainly composed of women, more than 70% of whom work mostly as casual workers. Female labor force is poorly valued, poorly remunerated and remains in the informal circuit without a work contract, without social security coverage, without dignified and secure transportation, without the possibility of unionization and far from decent work conditions. 73.5% of female agricultural workers are not insured against occupational hazards. Only 33.3% of rural women working in this sector have social security coverage. By way of comparison, only 93,500 female agricultural workers have social security coverage compared to 377,000 agricultural workers.

Rural women are very vulnerable. 32% of them are illiterate and only 19.3% have economic resources of their own. In fact, they face cultural, social and economic constraints that limit their access to the labor market and to dignified and well-paid jobs. The majority of economically active rural women remain excluded from the social protection system, despite their massive participation in the development of strategic economic sectors such as agriculture. In the absence of collective agreements governing the agricultural sector, and in the absence of adaptation of the legislation in force regarding social security for occasional agricultural workers, they find themselves without any social protection.

Of the 10727 social security contributors declared under the agricultural workers’ scheme, only 1148 (10.7%) are women. Many women, school dropouts and others who have passed the legal retirement age are forced to work in harsh, indecent and uncontrolled conditions to support themselves without any social protection, which exposes them to the dangers of unprotected handling of pesticides and other chemicals used, as well as to poor hygiene and transport conditions, and to the volume of work per hour.

Occupational accidents suffered by rural women are frequent but are not covered by the current insurance system. This system remains unsuited to the specificities of this female agricultural labor force.

Unequal access to social benefits and services and the lack of public and private support for family obligations and responsibilities are an obstacle to their participation in the formal labor market. As a result, they remain excluded from many development programs.

Major deficits in knowledge, monitoring and evaluation of the economic and social situation of rural women, particularly in the agricultural sector, remain and require multi-stakeholder and integrated intervention by the various parties concerned.

For all these reasons, the Agency for Local Democracy ADL, Kairouan TUNISIA launched on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), a field study on the situation of “Working Women in the Agricultural Sector: Pillar of Development despite the lack of an appropriate legal status”. For this reason, it adopted the cause of rural women to mobilize and motivate civil society, institutions, local and national partners to develop a legal status that protects them and guarantees their rights.

This initiative is in line with SDG 5 and in the continuity of the EU-sponsored PARFAIT project, launched by the ALDA Lead Partner Association in partnership with EPD, the Women’s Coalition and LDA Tunisia, and targeted five governorates in Tunisia; the project aimed to promote women’s participation in local public life in Tunisia, and to raise their awareness of the fact that civil and political rights go hand in hand with economic and social rights.

Through a questionnaire that reached 600 women workers and 300 farmers in 10 delegations in the three regions (Kairouan, Mahdia and Sidi Bouzid), LDA undertook to make this careful diagnosis of the situation of women and to determine the extent of the violation suffered in order to find adequate solutions whose aim is to change the living conditions of women and enable them to participate fully in local governance.

The presence of LDA Tunisia in urban and rural social environments allows it to deepen its studies by being in direct contact with citizens at all social, cultural, economic and political levels … and also helps to raise awareness among local officials, including municipal councils to give priority to the cause of rural women which is part of Human Rights – including the principle of non-discrimination – the fight and prevention of poverty.

Since the appearance of the code of local authorities, local governance has expanded its territory following the merging of marginalized rural areas into municipal districts created in several governorates known by the density of their inhabitants such as SIDI BOUZID, KAIROUAN … where rural women working in the agricultural sector requires the attention of the municipal council. The latter should find her, as a citizen and member of society, concrete and profitable solutions to remedy the precarious situation.

On the occasion of the National Day of Tunisian Women, LDA Tunisia organized a regional symposium to present the results of the study, and invited members of municipal councils in the region, administrative executives, components of local civil society and representatives of national organizations, who actively interacted with the salient findings of the study presented by the expert Mr. Radwan El-Fatnasy.

The first delegate Mr. Abdel-Fattah Al-Taghouti on behalf of Mr. Wali de Kairouan delivered the opening speech in which he expressed the importance of interaction and engagement between the different parties at the local level in order to design practical mechanisms and local initiatives. He also stressed the value of local participatory work that could be initiated by ADL Tunisia as a local energizer, as well as the need for a legislative initiative resulting from a political will to change this reality. He also expressed his willingness to follow and support.

On the program, Professor Al-Nasser Al-Aqrabawi, mayor of Ain Al-Bayda, gave a speech on “Women and Local Authority, the rural woman as a model”. He said that 500,000 working in the agricultural sector without a clear legal framework. And that open local governance requires openness to all social groups, including women in the agricultural sector. He said that the legislator within the local community code focused on political rights while neglecting the rest of the rights, and that the municipal council is responsible for seeking as much as possible to play its role in sensitizing this population.

The symposium was also followed by the regional and national media, and resulted in many important and practical proposals, which highlighted the need for networking for monitoring, study, sensitization, and especially to advocate for the State to assume its responsibilities in the fight against abuses against women workers in the agricultural sector. For its part, the local civil society with the women’s commissions in the municipalities are expected to start awareness sessions on work safety, health of women workers, social security coverage, insurance, etc… the training centers for rural girls can also contribute to training activities on rights and hygiene.

Participants also stressed the need for a legal framework guaranteeing all these rights in order to change the conditions of precariousness.

The symposium concluded with the presentation of the next steps presented by Ms. Afaf Zaddem, the delegate of the Agency for Local Democracy, followed by the presentation of the study both in Sidi Bouzid and Mahdia in the presence of local actors, launch a national advocacy campaign on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women on October 15, 2020, and form a legal committee to present a legislative initiative for a status that preserves the rights of rural women in the agricultural sector. For its part, LDA Tunisia is responsible for mobilizing national and international partners to support this local initiative that has grown”.

Watch the promotional video of this study: