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Horticulture in Rwanda

The Rwandan horticulture sector is small relative to the other East African countries with a total export market worth USD 3 million.[1] The government of Rwanda has strong policy for expanding the sector, with government currently controlling 70% of the horticulture industry. They are keen on expansion to increase production through out-growers programme(either as individual or as cooperative societies). The sector is however dominated by small-scale farmers with fluctuating production that can only employ workers on casual and temporary basis, often described as being in its infancy and remain poorly documented. In Rwanda, the Women@Work Campaign focuses on cut flowers and vegetables (French beans) value chains. cut flowers and vegetables rely on women’s labor and share similar value and supply chains into Europe and Asia.

There exists a number of labor-based challenges in the sector. There is no up to date minimum wage regulation, with the consequence that growers are paying very low and unregulated wages – mostly between RFW 700 – 1,000 per day (US$ 0.90-1.27). The seasonal nature of employment denies the majority of workers key employment benefits, such as: paid leave, social protection and trade union membership. In this sector, women occupy subordinate positions in the work place hierarchy, in spite of their large numbers.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment constraints are part of concerns raised by horticulture firms and cooperatives in Rwanda. These are linked to cultural norms, social roles and expectations, economic factors, and socio-economic environments that disadvantage women in Rwanda, including their marginalization in the public sphere. Specifically, horticulture firms studied (2016 Hivos Baseline Survey) were found to have no relevant policies or programs that address gender inequalities although the firms indicated they avoid gender bias in their conditions of service.

Laws, policies, government

The legal and policy environment for regulating the horticulture sector in Rwanda is fast developing. The constitution of Rwanda recognizes the rights of individuals and workers including the freedom of association, free choice of employment, the right to join a trade union and the right to strike. Rwanda has also ratified up to 28 ILO conventions. The Labor law amended in 2015 establishes fundamental rights at work, regulates various aspects of employment, general working conditions, salaried formal sector workers, leaves, occupational safety and health, organization of workers and employers, collective agreements and labor disputes. Even though the establishment of the National Labor was partly to advice on the minimum wage, the last minimum wage was established in 1974 and currently obsolete.

The Government has integrated gender equity goals in its labor and private investment policies. In addition to being a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Rwanda has adopted and ratified a total of 27 conventions including all Core Conventions i.e. C.98, C.138, C.182, C.29, C.105, C.100, C.111 and C. 87 aimed at fighting gender inequality in general and gender-based violence in particular. The Government has also ratified convention number 144 on tripartite consultation. Effective implementation of these laws and policies remains a key challenge in promoting women’s labor rights.

The political climate for claiming labor rights is significantly controlled by the government, with rigorous oversight of the activities of Non-Governmental Organizations, through the NGO Registration Act of 2012. Intense monitoring of the registered organizations restricts space for human rights work and co-option of local organizations by the Government is commonplace. Even within the unions representing workers, social dialogue is preferred above any other form of industrial action provided for in the legislation – more consensus approach in negotiations. For instance, strikes are highly discouraged and any form of industrial action can easily be treated as subversion or sabotage. In addition, while industrial courts exist, cases take unnecessarily long to conclude. While this has a positive side to it, the environment can limit the means of engagement by the trade unions.

The Women@Work Campaign has established partnerships with four organizations in Rwanda who through a non confrontational strategy, including collecting evidence-based materials to open the space for dialogue with Government. These include the Rwanda Workers Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR) on organization workers in horticulture sector and sensitization on their rights, Rwanda Women’s Network on enhancing the leadership capacities of women workers and management staff in horticulture farms, and Haguruka who engage government on labor and policy changes.

These organizations work in collaboration with the relevant government ministries and departments and the private sector. The collaborators include the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) - mandated to implement the National Gender Policy (NGP); the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN) that provides leadership in gender responsive budgeting;  the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) mandated to monitor progress towards gender equality and equity in all spheres of society, the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), and the Ministry of Public Services and Labor (MIFOTRA) with the mission of strengthening institutional and legal frameworks to improve conditions of employment in the public and private sectors.

 

[1] NAEB, Horticulture Export Strategy (2016)

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