Motherhood, labor, family, struggle and survival: The untold stories of women breathing life into flower farms in Uganda

Women make up 60 to 75% of the labor force in the horticulture sector, taking up tasks like weeding, harvesting, packing and labeling flowers. These are the stories of four such women working on two flower farms in Uganda. Beyond their occupations, these stories are of their full, complex existences: their backgrounds, childhoods, strengths and limitations. These are profiles of their life journeys from being children themselves, to growing into adults who have children, keep their families together, contribute to theirs and their families’ economic survivals; as well as navigate the capitalist-patriarchy.

How we put this together

These stories were primarily collected by sound recordings and written notes from oral interviews conducted in the local, Luganda language and later transcribed into English. Some sentences have been shortened for purposes of accurate translation.

The interviews were conducted at the farm premises where these women work; in offices, compounds and even while walking through the green houses. Additional interviews were recorded inside the homes of three of the subjects.

What we observed:

In these stories, the overriding themes remain: motherhood, labor, family, struggle and survival. The subjects speak of the responsibility of child care that has been largely left to them, whether by absentee fathers, present but dormant ones, or partners who have passed on. For three of them, their first encounter with child birth and motherhood came unplanned, during school. The fathers of only two of these remained in their lives and those of their children.

For all, coming to work at these flower farms was out of necessity, not necessarily desire. A need to take care of themselves and their children led them to seek labor there, with the hope that something better will come up, or that they will eventually save enough to start their own businesses.

Work in the green houses is characterized by little pay, long hours and just half of or no protective gear. Both these farms have daycare centers on site which allow for the women laborers with children up to 2 years old to come to work with their kids and leave them in safe care as they go into the green houses to work.

It is mostly women who work in the farms as casual laborers; picking, weeding and harvesting. The few men working there are either in irrigation, welfare, or scouting, which is the more scientific task of checking flowers for pests and diseases.

Salaries range between UGX 90,000 (USD 24) for workers on probation, to UGX 300,000 (USD 81) per month. These are inclusive of lunch and before statutory cuts (Pay As You Earn-PAYE, National Social Security Fund, etc.) While the workers at one of the farms are transported to and from work, workers at the other one have to walk there. Women at both farms have representatives on the workers’ trade union committees, and have begun savings cooperatives to supplement their salaries. Efforts to request for salary increments are futile, and medical welfare is limited. At one of the farms, the women confided that when taken for treatment, some workers’ medical results are altered by medical practitioners in connivance with management, so that the farm authorities will avoid responsibility. Some of the medical issues that came up were: infected feet due to damaged gumboots, hand cuts from thorns, and back pain which is the most prominent considering the posture taken to do this work.

Temperatures inside the green houses are high, something they say they got used to. There was a covered bucket of drinking water in each green house while the other farm had none.

The subjects appeared to be in higher spirits, seemingly glad when they were being listened to and humanized. They were happiest and most comfortable in their homes. Those whose children have outgrown the farm day cares often leave their kids with women neighbors to whom they pay a small fee, or buy foodstuffs for as compensation.

We invite you into the lives of Felista, Rita, Specioza and Namatovu below or download here!

FELISTA

Nine years later, Felista not only picks flowers at the farm, she is also on the workers union committee which the workers began to protect their interests. This position requires her to speak to the management committee members on behalf of her fellow workers. Some of the issues that arise include; medical, operational and remuneration complaints.

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RITA

Last year, Rita decided she wanted to supplement her husband’s salary, but most importantly make her own money. She came to the flower farm and applied for a job as a flower picker – she was hired. She is happy to be working, and is most grateful for the daycare on the farm where she and the other mothers’ babies of, right from day zero up to 2 years old are taken care of while they work.

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SPECIOZA

 Specioza wishes that men were better partners to women, especially in parenting. “Men have neglected their parental responsibilities, leaving the burden to women. Now it is us who have to take care of the kids and also work to sustain their lives, with no help at all.”

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NAMATOVU

 Namatovu is the popular socks vendor among her colleagues. At the end of her work day, outside the changing rooms, she turns into a trader – showcasing her product, conducting negotiations, and recommending what pair and color of socks one should buy.

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