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Our Kericho tea estate is the size of a small town, with close to 80,000 people living and working on the plantation.

To ensure women based at Kericho feel safe and supported, we have launched a programme empowering them to report incidences of harassment or violence in confidence, and have provided training to managers across the plantation about the importance of human rights and addressing gender-based violence.

Integrated Social Sustainability Manager for Unilever Africa (and qualified human rights lawyer) Winnie Nyakwara, who introduced the programme, tells us more about it here.

How did the programme start?

In 2014, we started out by talking to our tea pickers and people based on the plantations to find out first hand about any problems they were experiencing relating to violence or harassment. We wanted to establish a baseline and ascertain whether they felt able – and knew how – to report incidents.

We also started training our estate managers about the importance of protecting women, and the clear business benefits of doing so in terms of productivity and positivity in the workplace. All workers received training about human rights, and learned how to report cases of harassment or violence anonymously.

What are some of the key changes you've made at Kericho since then?

On a practical level, we’ve improved lighting across the plantations, enhanced security, set up safe places for women to breastfeed their babies, established daycare centres for children under the age of three, and made improvements to the housing we provide on the estate, improving living conditions significantly for our people.

We’re also working to equip our managers to understand human rights, and address all forms of gender-based violence and human rights abuses.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we are ensuring that every worker in Kericho – women and men – know how to report any cases of violence, harassment, or human rights abuses, and understand that they are supported by Unilever and protected by the law.

They can report anonymously by leaving a note in one of the drop-boxes around the estate or calling our ethics hotline. They also have confidence they can report incidents to any manager or the police, and we have employed a counsellor to help with their recovery and integration back to society if they need extra support.

So how has the culture in Kericho changed since the programme launched?

Presentation at a meeting

In our first year of the programme, the number of cases of incidents increased significantly. It’s something we were expecting, and in a way hoping to see. That’s because it meant that women – and anyone who had been subject to violence – knew they could speak up, that they trusted we would support them.

Now that trend is going down – and again, we see that as a positive move. Awareness of the consequences of reporting violence and harassment is high. Perpetrators have been found, and arrested – and lost their job – and that has proved to be a powerful deterrent. Our people tell us they feel much safer now.

What impact has this had on women at the plantation?

They know their rights now. They realise that being beaten, or living in fear of violence or harassment isn’t something they should expect or accept – and that they will receive support to prevent and stop it.

Since 2016, we’ve also been working with UN Women to strengthen our work in this area. With their support we’ve been able to provide women and girls on the plantation with mentoring, and inspiring them to seek leadership positions within Unilever. From tea pickers to senior leaders, volunteers from Unilever have been visiting the 22 schools in and around our Kericho plantation to run sessions on subjects designed to boost their confidence and their ambition.

What else does the UN Women partnership involve?

As well as mentoring, the partnership has given us access to expertise around preventing gender-based violence.

It’s also helped us to forge strong links with governments and local authorities which in turn means we can improve access to healthcare, education, and other services which benefit our workers and their families.

“Women know their rights now. They realise that being beaten, or living in fear of violence or harassment isn’t something they should expect or accept – and that they will receive support to prevent and stop it.” Tweet this

Can you share an example of a change or achievement in Kericho that you're particularly proud of?

One of the women farmers based on the site told us: “I am no longer looking at myself as a man’s property. I know that my voice matters and should be heard.” It’s a powerful sentiment.

I was also very moved to see how the programme changed the life of one particular woman who I met when I first joined Unilever some years ago. At the time, her home on the estate was in a poor state of repair and she had been through two abusive marriages. Her self-esteem had been crushed.

A year later, after we introduced the programme, she couldn’t believe how things had changed. She had successfully applied for more responsibility at Kericho, she has moved to a bigger, more comfortable home, her eldest daughter has graduated from high school. She told me the plantation feels like a safe place for her, and her family.

In a broader context, millions of women have rallied behind the #metoo hashtag this year. How do you think we can all help prevent violence against women?

Woman talking

One of the practical things that means the most to me is how can we enable and empower women across the board – from children to students to workers to senior managers – so they can avoid finding themselves in a hostile space. Life skills mentorship are crucial to this.

Many people here are brought up in cultures that make them feel they’re not important. You realise when you mentor them, and teach them how to say no. It really shapes their views. Enabling women to find their strength is so powerful.

And finally, at Unilever, 'purpose' underpins everything we do. How does your personal purpose drive your work in this area?

My purpose is to secure an environment and a space where women and girls and the community as a whole enjoy their rights. Where there’s social justice, fairness and people are safe. In Kericho, I think we’ve been able to make a big difference on that front.

#16days

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to Human Rights Day on 10 December, the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign is galvanising action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

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