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Development meant little to these plantation workers, except in their aspirations for their children, and even these were dampened by the harsh realities of plantation life. Though they were aware of the important economic role of the plantations, which produce the country's most lucrative cash crops, most of them felt that their future was bleak. They that produce Kenya's main source of foreign exchange gain little but their paltry wages from their contribution to their country's development. There was a tremendous gap between their labour input and the wages the workers received. Most complained of heavy-handed oppression and excessive exploitation. The plantations remain enclaves barely touched by the positive policies and progress in the rest of the country. Though they provide employment, the poverty and desolation inherent in the present system call for radical change. It was debatable whether being a plantation worker represented an improvement in the economic circumstances of the respondents or not. The fact that women were able to have their own economic base and so provide for their children, whether alone or jointly with husbands, was important in practical terms as well as potentially providing a base for eventually increasing their autonomy. The study showed that they were much more likely to be decision-makers when they headed their own households. Yet employment was a mixed blessing for the women, as there were no social support services to alleviate the double burden of productive and reproductive duties.
The quality of the workers' lives was reflected in their health and nutrition. Though all the workers were adversely affected by the extreme poverty there, the women and children suffered most. Pesticides, poor housing, and scanty clothing affected them more. Thus there was a longing for rural life as an alternative that would provide a better environment for health and nutrition.
All the plantation workers suffer from a system of exploitation typical of colonialism, but the women's lives also reflect the continuing influence of patriarchal and patrilineal social and economic relations.
In 1979, conservative government statistics indicated that women headed 40 per cent of the households in Kenya. These households were composed of mothers who had never been married, separated and divorced women, and widows. This situation of the women who arc de jure heads of households was highly visible on the plantation. By implication the study also draws attention to the women left behind as de facto heads of households in rural areas. These women have a new and different role, one which was unknown in Kenyan society before transformations in the structure of the African family caused by colonial and post-colonial land alienation, migration, and the advent of waged employment. Theirs is a new kind of household and one whose significance should be stressed, as it has a bearing on the division of labour, decision-making, and property ownership. Their history, conditions, and prospects need further research as a basis for action to support them in this transition.
The proportion of female heads of households on the plantations was above the national figure of 40 per cent. They were totally dependent on their wages: patrilineal bias has disinherited them as daughters and sisters, and in the absence of traditional or statutory affiliations with the fathers of their children, they have been dispossessed as mothers and wives. The fact that they took refuge in the plantation workforce, where they have the lowest turnover rates, shows how few options they have. Once there, they have nowhere else to go. Women were more visible in the workforce on both the tea and coffee plantations than they were in other sectors of the modern economy, and they remained part of it for longer. The men retired to other places between the ages of 40 and 50, but many female heads of households continued to work and live on the plantation until death. It was rare to find a man over 50 on the plantation, whereas women of 60 could be seen struggling with heavy and difficult work. The pattern tends to be self-perpetuating: since they own no land to which they can retire, or which their children can inherit, their children, too, may be tied to the camps, destined to become the next generation of plantation workers.
The emerging nuclear family also represents a new type of household formation here. Polygamy and extended families survive, but with the indelible mark of the plantation on them. The polygynous homestead is no longer in one location, and while the extended family alleviates some of the stress of plantation life, plantation life puts a heavy strain on kinship ties. The changing composition and structure of all these household types has important implications for their functioning and the wellbeing of their individual members.
At present there are few data on the situation and problems of plantation workers in Kenya. This study should help to focus national attention on their specific needs. Clearly, action to improve their conditions would raise their productivity and so enhance the sector's contribution to the economy. For example, though both government and management have lamented high labour turnover on the plantations, little research has been done to determine the causes of this. In fact, social and economic conditions on the plantations have deteriorated in comparison to the colonial and post-independence periods. Now the workers suffer the impact of the international economic problems and crises that made the country devalue its currency and the gap between wages and the cost of basic needs has widened. The survey shows many only worked on plantations as a last resort. There is little motivation to go there or to stay there, especially as the remuneration was barely enough for survival. The fact that women were the most stable workers was an indication of their desperation. The implementation of oft-heard plans to improve the wages and contractual conditions of rural workers would go a long way to create incentives for working on the plantations.
Since the plantation workers fit into neither the rural nor the urban scenario for development planning, a new focus and perspective which includes them should be devised so that workers there can share in the nation's development. They should be singled out as a specific target group for programmes, much as pastoralists, women, those in the informal sector, and small agriculturalists have been identified. This would help to counteract the feeling of futility and isolation that most of them expressed about their situation and enable them to reap the benefits of their productivity.
Both management and the union need to put improving the quality of life of these workers first and foremost on their list of priorities. Unions could utilize the findings of this study to understand the problems of their members better and so strive more effectively for the improvement their conditions and welfare. Apart from its negotiations for maternity leave the Kenya Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union has yet to make any significant impact on their lives. Most of the workers did not even know of its existence. Some had never heard of the idea of unionization. Members and others who were aware of the union expressed great disappointment at its ineffective performance in disputes. Some of the women suggested it would be stronger if more women participated.
The owners and management of the plantations need to sensitize themselves to the workers' conditions and aspirations as a preliminary to affecting change. Although some have carried out their own research (indeed, Brooke Bond officials thought this study superfluous), there is much they could do to bring the workers into the mainstream of development projects and planning. Housing, nutrition, clothing, and education for the workers and their families need overall upgrading. Such improvements would in part depend on the workers having a greater share, through better wages, in the profits from the crops they produce. It is also necessary to facilitate their participation in projects that would ameliorate their lives: some of their apathy could be alleviated if they were to perceive themselves as active agents of change. The formation of a women's group on Nyakinyua and the efforts of the workers on Kericho plantation to build their own nursery school on a harambee (self-help) basis were examples of this kind of active involvement. The workers felt powerless since, unlike their rural counterparts, they did not own the land on which they worked, nor did they have the skills or cash base opportunities of urban dwellers. Their continual struggle for survival left them with little hope or energy for projects that might benefit them.
The health status of the workforce is clearly linked to the substandard housing as well as to the effects of pesticides, the monocropping system, and the inadequate wages. Instead of praising the durability of the huts which were built in 1920, the management should make a concerted effort to bring plantation accommodation into line with policies for improved housing. As things stand, housing there remains a starkly visible symbol of the plantation system as a colonial legacy. A multi-sectoral approach is needed to raise health standards among the workers, particularly the women, as this must be the permanent residence of those with no land to return to elsewhere.
Most, if not all, the national education and information programmes usually bypass the plantations. As they arc often designed for either urban dwellers or rural peasant populations, the plantation is excluded by its very nature. The workers there, too, should be able to benefit from and participate in national programmes and other means of positive social change.
The Women's Bureau and other relevant offices should address themselves to the needs of the women there, especially the landless and sole heads of households among them. The needs of the dispossessed, displaced, and alienated sections of the population, as well as the particular requirements of the aged, the young, and women must be incorporated into national planning programmes. Lasting solutions to the problems of squatters must be developed.
At the household level, the research came up with useful information and data on the division of labour and domestic roles that could form the basis for education and motivation towards more equitable co-operation and distribution of tasks. It provides grounds for challenging stereotyped views and beliefs about individual roles and indicates possibilities for reorganization that would lead to the practical recognition of the rights of each member of the household. This in turn should lead to greater household stability. However, it is also necessary to remember that the rural poverty that the workers talked about so much is an aspect of the gross imbalance in development between the urban centres and rural areas in Kenya.
While the plantation economy provides a refuge for those women who cannot survive elsewhere in a patriarchal society, it also provides a clear rationale for modifying the inequalities of patrilineal systems so that women do not have to run to the plantations in desperation. The women of Kenya need improved economic opportunities and a social milieu in which they can take advantage of them. The division of labour within households discriminates against women and the perpetuation of traditional gender roles on the plantations has an unfair and unfortunate impact on them. Their burdens become heavier as they are forced to undertake modern wage employment while the supports traditionally provided by the extended family and a strong sense of community are breaking down.
The study team feels that training and research should go hand in hand in this type of project. The advantages of this were emphasized by the enhanced skills of those who had attended an HGA course. It is also to be hoped that the women who have had training and experience in such projects can be further utilized in the interests of quality research. A situation in which there are trained personnel without projects and project teams without training is a shameful waste in a developing country.
Members of our research team reacted to what they discovered with varying degrees of intensity. Some young members of the team from middle-class backgrounds were moved to tears by the abject social and economic deprivation. Each research assistant recorded her or his impressions: all the reports emphasized the extreme poverty of the plantation worker in general and the situation of the female head of household in particular. Many commented on how much their awareness of gender issues in contemporary society had been raised and their knowledge of conditions in one of their country's most important economic sectors broadened. The project also had a great impact on the respondents. It was a novelty for them; many said that no one had ever bothered to ask them about their lives, thoughts, feelings, or reasons for being on the plantation before. When the management was asked about a sample of women for the interviews, it was immediately assumed that we had come to teach family-planning techniques. Apparently the only officials who had ever paid the women any kind of attention before were in this field. It took a lot of explanation to clear the air. The respondents were often briefed in groups prior to the interviews in order to change their perceptions of themselves as passive recipients of information to that of active informants who could analyse their own situation. The research involved the coming together of two sections of the population that were usually isolated and insulated from the rest of society. The shared experience was one of discovery for all concerned and we were constantly conscious of its significance.
It sometimes seems that respondents in projects like this are placed under a microscope for the purpose of gathering data but, when the research is finished, their situation remains unchanged. The analysis sits on library shelves among similar studies, but the subjects gain nothing. It is high time that research projects were more action-oriented so that they could effect change, even in a limited way, instead of passively examining it.
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