Addressing gender parity

- Indranil GHOSH (ig@kko-international.com)

We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much ... to be successful, but not too successful, or they'll threaten men, says author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this classic talk that started a worldwide conversation about feminism, Adichie asks that we begin to dream about and plan for a different, fairer world -- of happier men and women who are truer to themselves.

#GenderParity is ubiquitous. From social media postings to internal memos on the dos and don'ts - there has been a sea change in our perception of a woman's rightful place at work.

On the African continent (and in #IvoryCoast), women continue to play a vital role on both the social and economic front. Whether as farmers, entrepreneurs or housewives, they are a primordial part of the decor, perhaps more than in any other part of the world. In our case, the rural settings bring to the fore its own set of issues that differ from urban datasets and call for a tailored approach. For example "African women spend way too much time at unproductive pursuits, such as fetching water and wood" 1. So what are we doing about it? Here are the FOUR WAYS that #KKOInternational is trying to address the issue:

1. IDENTIFY KEY SKILLSETS AND TASKS: With over a 1000 jobs created since the project's inception, one of the most pertinent ways to catalyse gender parity within our ranks was through the detailed monitoring of tasks that need specific skillsets and involve flexible work periods. With that in mind, tasks related to nursery and planting of trees were identified and consequently reserved for women.

Both of the aforementioned activities requires meticulous training in agro protocols and a thorough approach to execution - all the while avoiding strenuous physical effort as often seen in maintenance and harvest.

During our on-field experience, we noticed women to demonstrate the requisite the qualities as compared to men. Moreover given the seasonal nature of the work, it allowed women to ensure the continuity of their household whilst earning a livelihood. Resultantly, more than 60% of the nursery and planting workforce are composed of women. 

2. FINANCIAL EMPOWERMENT: What better way to ensure individual independence than the ability to pay for one's health and education for the children. With #KKOInternational's wages well above the national sector average, it reinforces financial freedom through the ensuing ability to execute budgets without hindrance or dependency. All wages are paid on the basis of signed timesheets and photo identity with the HR and internal audit teams using SAGE for payroll management to avoid fraud and ID usurpation.

3. ASSURE A VOICE IN THE COMMUNITY: In keeping with our "inclusive" approach, the senior management spends large amounts of time with rural communities. The aim is to build and nurture bonds through dialogues. While these "gatherings" take place, the overarching aim is to ensure the active participation of women as more than mere spectators. Not always in keeping with existing traditions, a melange of tact and firmness is called for to solicit feedback from women, who are often enthusiastic contributors.

4. START EARLY; ENGAGE THE YOUTH: Perceptions, habits and outlook can/must evolve. Issues of women's empowerment, social activism, health and safety assume greater meaning when imparted early. The rural patriarchal structure teaches young girls to be passive and obedient. By helping them improve their self image through training and building new skills that translate to jobs and resulting financial freedom, we strive to bring about visible change amongst the youth who can serve as an efficient intergenerational relay. 

We are not quite there yet in terms of perfect parity. The task is daunting given the numbers and the precedents that are deeply ingrained in the psyche. But our desire is unflinching and the strategy is well ingrained in the company's ethos. The mot d'ordre is equity and justice.