Putting Women in the Driver’s Seat
In many traditional farming communities, women handle most of the manual work in addition to having responsibilities for home and family management, as many of them have never driven a car. They are consigned to work in planting, weeding, and drying beds while also managing the feeding, education, and healthcare of their immediate and often extended families.
Conversely, men usually take responsibility for operating technology tools, such as tractors and other devices, which also earn higher wages than manual work, and those wages are paid to the men and not always immediately or wholly shared with their families.
Longstanding traditions and practices relating to gender stereotypes and cultural acquiescence have a particular impact on the livelihoods and career opportunities for women in these communities where farming is often the biggest employer (78% of all Zambian women depend on the farming sector).
Numbers from UN research dimensionalize this story:
- Zambia ranked 135th among 187 countries on gender equality, according to the UN, and evidence a dual system of statutory and customary law that tolerated gender discrimination in marriage, inheritance, and access to resources.
- The political participation of women is 116th among 145 countries, according to the same research
- 17% of Zambian girls ages 10-19 are married (compared to 1% of boys), and over a quarter of them have already been pregnant
ofi is committed to challenging this status quo and using AtSource, our sustainability insights platform, we can monitor the impact of our efforts and see where to target further interventions. Our customers have full visibility too, giving them the opportunity to help us influence these elements for the better and meet their own sustainability goals.
The idea to train female tractor drivers on our own estates came from Zimbabwe and South Africa where we’d seen women running large farms, so we knew what was possible. The manager and other leaders of ofi’s coffee Kateshi Estate decided to trial it and recruited six women to train on operating small tractors used to haul water and coffee beans (Kateshi is 2,461.45ha. and is part of the larger 6,985ha. Northern Coffee Corporation Ltd. (“NCCL”).
Finding willing volunteers was no problem; in fact, they showed up for the first day of class with their hair done and wearing makeup, as befitting a special occasion. The men on the farm were slightly amused, thinking that the very idea was some sort of joke.
But the women thought otherwise and were quickly proving themselves behind the wheel. A representative from Zambia’s Road Transport Safety Agency (RTSA) joined to help educate them on manoeuvring and road safety. Word quickly spread in the community and more women asked to join the program.
To understand the effect this new line of work has had for these women’s position in their households and communities, as well as female empowerment more broadly, we commissioned a study last year, led by a social research consultant at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The data applied a mixed method approach using qualitative and quantitative methods based on data triangulation. 83 women were interviewed and/or engaged in focus group discussions, along with 60 men and children to understand the perception of the initiative of the wider communities around the NCCL estates, as well as to establish a typology of household decision-making in the area.