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Inequalities between men and women in the banana sector

Various governments across the world are actively trying to help more women participate in the labour market and aim to break the glass ceiling. The position of women in the banana sector is also being examined, although they are also more widely looking at the position of labourers on the plantations.

"I'm glad the topic is at the start of the programme this time," says Sue Longley, IUF. "In other years this topic was last on the agenda and everyone was on their way back to the airport."

Sue Longley, IUF.

"We have to make the banana sector attractive to women," says Christel of Compagnie Fruitière during the World Banana forum. The French company is primarily active in the banana cultivation in West Africa and is one of the largest employers in some countries. "So that women can develop a career within the banana sector, we have to banish any form of discrimination." Special attention to pregnant women and the mothers of small children is important in this.

One of the points brought up as to why women earn less, is that a large portion of women work in the informal sector. This excludes them from statistics. There are calls for more research in that sector. Another point is highlighted: "It's also part of the health and safety discussion. Some substances banned in Europe and the US, are still used on the banana plantations. Those substances have a large impact on health." 

Alette van Leur on ILO.

Covenants not signed
What also plays a role is the intensity of the work on the plantations, where there are long working days and heavy tools are used. "There are various factors in play, including the limited access to services," according to Alette van Leur of ILO. A social dialogue is the solution, she believes, in which the various factors are on the agenda. The labourers in the banana sector are exposed to more chemical substances, she believes. Employees in the agrarian sector have a higher chance of dying on the job. The ILO therefore wrote certain covenants, but the covenant on health and safety in the workplace was only signed by sixteen countries. "And the big banana producing countries are not among them," according to Alette.

Rightfully, there were questions from the audience as to why so few countries signed the covenant. "The covenant places few demands on the government, and yet it is still not signed, how can this be?" The question remains unanswered. 

The Ecuadorian minister of Agriculture Raul Clemente Ledesma Huerta.

Ecuador presents handbook
The Ecuadorian government has taken into use a handbook to improve the safety of the labourers in the banana cultivation. "It's important that labourers have a safe workplace," according to the Ecuadorian minister of Agriculture Raul Clemente Ledesma Huerta. "In general terms labourers in agriculture run a higher risk." Although the risks differ per sector. "In the sugar sector labourers have more chance of being bitten by a snake than in banana cultivation, but the handbook can also be used for that sector."

The minister is calling on other banana countries to also use the handbook. "It's an all or nothing mechanism," he continues. "It's important to increase the knowledge of the handbook." It is now the government's turn to inform all players in the sector of the handbook and the agreements made in it. On the labour market in the South American country, however, there still a lot of old legislation in force, which means that employees are better being paid under the table in certain cases. "If an employee isn't in our system, this person cannot claim social rights and so cannot profit from them," says the minister. "There are still a lot of these contracts in the banana sector."

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