Sello Mokoena: Rights of women on farms trampled
THE Constitution states that “the Republic of South Africa is one sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values: human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms and non-racialism and non-sexism”, among others.
Despite these profound founding provisions, what is not being debated vigorously is the ethos of some of the white farmers who still discriminate against black female farmworkers.
To what extent has their philosophy changed in a society in which racism and discrimination were deeply and historically embedded? Thus as we bid farewell to Women’s Month, themed “Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future”, it is critical to reflect on how the country has travelled in addressing the plight of rural women in respect of working conditions and the advancement of their human rights.
Evidence-based research provides overwhelming evidence that although human rights have in fact become essential under the democratic dispensation, the rights of rural women have remained unrealised due to a variety of factors.
As Johanna Kehler put it in the Journal of International Women’s Studies, in her article “Women and Poverty: The South African Experience: “The main burdens women on farms in South Africa are faced with are extreme discrimination and unequal treatment in the workplace, as well as unfair labour practices.
“They are mostly only employed as casual or temporary labourers during times of harvest or other labourintensive farm work. Even in cases where women work as seasonal workers for the entire year on the farm, they are not granted the rights of permanent workers.
“These employment patterns lead as well to the majority of women working on farms not being covered by social insurance schemes such as pension fund, medical benefits or maternity benefits.
“Women on farms work 10 hours a day with only a one-hour break for lunch and no tea breaks. They are required to perform physically strenuous work in all weather, without any shelter provided when it rains, nor any extra breaks in the extreme heat.
“Women are obliged to handle chemicals with their bare hands, since the farmer does not provide workers with protective gear.
“Women do not have any guarantee that their jobs will be kept for them while on maternity leave. Very often women have no choice but to handle chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilisers, throughout their pregnancy and the period of nursing their babies.
“It can be argued that the conditions women are faced with while working and living on farms constitute not only a violation of these rights, but a violation of the constitutional guarantees of non-discrimination, non-sexism, and equality.
“It can further be argued that only the effectiveness of the translation from the theory of equality and non-discrimination into the practice of empowerment and socio-economic upliftment of women and the poor will be one of the main criteria, determining success or failure of South Africa’s transformation process.”
Evidently, the evidence provided in this article and the rapid growth of the incidents of the violation of the rights of rural women in our country must be a clarion call once again to recognising the horror and futility of using skin colour and violence to achieve economic superiority.
Those farmers who benefit from these acts of exploitation must be called to account. I believe a just society has moral and political obligations to end this discrimination.
The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.