At RSPO, we believe that making sustainable palm oil the norm includes ensuring that the people involved in the production and supply chain for palm oil are treated equally, fairly and given equal opportunities. This includes the contributions of women and girls in the sector.
On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly incorporated Gender Equality as a part of international human rights law. 74 years later, exacerbated by the effects of a devastating global pandemic, the World Economic Forum states that it will still take us 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide1 The question remains; what is needed at this juncture to accelerate the closure of the gender gap?
On 8 March 2022, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD 2022) by highlighting some of the efforts our members have committed to within our social standards because gender equality today leads to a more sustainable tomorrow.
Closing the Gender Gap
To illustrate, we want to highlight RSPO’s first Practical Guidance on Gender Inclusion and Compliance to the 2018 RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) and the 2019 Independent Smallholder (ISH) Standard (‘Guidance’). Our aim for these guidance documents is to assist companies to take the necessary steps towards developing a strategy to close the gender gap by improving women’s safety in the workplace, expanding women's economic opportunities, increasing awareness and education among the workforce, and ensuring members’ compliance to gender-related requirements of the 2018 RSPO P&C and 2019 ISH Standard.
The gender gap is wider in male dominated industries like the palm oil industry where women can be disproportionately impacted by gender violence and sexual harassment. Many female victims suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs. Such behaviour from their supervisors, fellow employees, and others, if unchecked, can lead to psychological trauma, stigma, and isolation for the victims. This can lead to other situations such as reduced work capacity, unwanted pregnancies, depression, and anxiety which are often not observed by auditors.
The RSPO Gender Guidance aims to address such challenges by introducing five main strategies for companies to help curb the problem, including:
- a zero-tolerance policy for gender-based violence
- training staff on gender violence prevention and response
- separate toilets and changing rooms for men and women
- access to counselling and health facilities
- appointing female supervisors.
In developing this guidance, we spoke with leading female figures within the sector to hear their thoughts on the topic, and how this ties into the strategies proposed in the Gender Guidance. They shared that societal and cultural gender norms and values reinforce the unequal relationship between men and women and normalises sexual harassment and gender violence in the workplace. Therefore, strategies are necessary to address these challenges.
Gender Inclusivity Leads to Sustainability
One respondee, Bumitama, an Indonesian plantation company, mentioned that sexual harassment, violence and domestic violence are unfortunate realities in plantations. In addition to policy, education and a mechanism for reporting, the company said that they play a mediation role when cases are reported, sometimes with the help of a women’s group, doctor, or a psychologist. These actions can be considered as implementation of part of the strategies proposed by RSPO mentioned above.
According to interviews with women and men in smallholder households, women workers in plantations often do not benefit from social security and other benefits that accompany permanent contracts as they are left doing piece-rate or casual jobs with lower wages paid by day, such as applying fertilisers, spraying pesticide and collecting loose fruits.
Additionally, Musim Mas, another major palm oil corporation, in their experience have realised that small initiatives go a long way. Within the management of their plantations, a new recruitment system was introduced whereby both husband and wife of one family were offered a single contract. As a result, both men and women are paid and can enjoy benefits such as insurance and social security.
The diverse insights provided by RSPO stakeholders show that changes and improvements are being made to close the gender gap, and that it is essential to shift ingrained business practices. Women, when given the access to equal economic opportunities, complement men in the areas of financial management and family responsibilities. It is important to realise this on the path towards transforming the sector into a gender-inclusive, and thus more sustainable sector.