Despite the implementation of the new minimum wage a Stellenbosch-based pressure group Women on Farms believe female farmworkers are still often underpaid and overlooked by their employers. This, they say, deepens the gender pay gap.
Agri SA labour specialist Lebogang Sethusha says Stats SA’s 2017 census of commercial agriculture also indicates a big gap between the number of females employed in full-time paid positions compared to male employees.
Also, women are often overlooked for managerial positions. “There is still a lot of work to be done to address gender equality in the sector and our rural communities where most farms a situated,” says Sethusha.
While it is true that women have an important role to play in the global future of agriculture, men are often given preferential treatment.
Sethusha says, “The implementation is where the discrepancies come in. Women will have lower paying jobs. They are more general workers while senior jobs are reserved for men.”
Accord to Carmen Louw, co-director of Women on Farms, barriers exist for women in agriculture due to perceptions of female farmworkers’ physical strength, self-confidence, motherhood and childcare.
Louw explains that in agriculture, men are often given roles like tractor driver, chemical and pesticide sprayers, supervisors, and managers.
“Those are male jobs and obviously with that comes a higher income. Legally they earn the same, but how jobs are structure is where the differentiation comes in.”
Louw adds that it is also concerning that female farmworkers are mostly seasonal workers which means they can only earn an income for a few months at a time or when the harvest concludes. Permanent workers, who are mostly men, get paid throughout the year.
“The bulk of work that they do is harvesting work where they cut the grapes when they are ready. In the table grape sector, you will find many of them in the pack stores as well, packing grapes in boxes, sorting grapes in boxes.”
‘No interest in gender equity’
Employers seem to have little interest in gender parity and equity, making matters worse for women in agriculture. Louw says sectoral determination does not compel the farmer or employer to introduce and ensure more gender parity in the workplace.
“The agriculture sector is still very much male dominated and patriarchal. They have no interest in gender parity or equity. That is not part of the agenda.
“There is no plan in place. There is also no legislative guidelines or enforcement to ensure that there is gender parity.”
“For female farmworkers in search of better opportunities the only way is out.” – CARMEN LOUW, WOMEN ON FARMS
Louw says, “We do not see that it will change in the near future. What we are arguing for is for land to be expropriated and given to women so that they can start their own production and their small businesses to bring more equity to women.”
In order to eradicate existing patriarchy in the sector, Sethusha suggests that there is a need for greater emphasis on skills development to increase employment choices for women in agriculture.
“We need to foster social dialogue on gender equality, promoting the principles of equal pay for equal value in rural communities and growing gender representation in the sector with closing the gender gap in farm ownership for female interests to be prioritised.
“We need policies that are transformative and enhance gender equity to implement the ILO Decent Work Agenda in legislation, a good example being the legislation on employment equity.
Has Covid-19 pushed back gender equality?
According to an international study by market research company Ipsos, the gender pay gap is still seen as important, but divisions exist over whether it is a top priority throughout the globe.
Mari Harris, Ipsos SA director and political analyst, reveals that a study conducted in 28 diverse countries indicates that “online citizens” see closing the gender pay gap as a priority more than the global country average of 36%.
“While studies highlight the disproportionate economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women, citizens of many countries are divided over whether closing the gender pay gap should be a top priority right now.”
In three of these countries, Chile (53%), South Africa (52%) and France (51%), more than half support the idea that the gender pay gap should be addressed imminently.
A much higher proportion of South African women (61%) than men (41%) think that the gender pay gap is important enough to be addressed immediately.
Despite these divisions, there is broad sympathy for the need to address the gender pay gap with half of people (50%) across the 28 countries saying that concerns about the gender pay gap are a response to a real problem.