Fair-Trade Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

Fair Trade is becoming a popular concept, but unless explored and seen in practice, it’s a hard concept to understand in depth. Seven Women supports and applies the principles of Fair Trade in the grass roots development project we have created. The Seven Women organization does not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/Aids status or age. The organization provides opportunities for women and men to develop their skills and actively promotes applications from women for job vacancies and for leadership positions in the organization. The organization takes into account the special health and safety needs of pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. Women fully participate in decisions concerning the use of benefits accruing from the production process.

Our centre was created to benefit women through skills training, employment and social empowerment. We focus on providing positions at the centre for impoverished women, and specifically women with disabilities. We believe they are the population group who can create the most effective change yet experience the most discrimination. Nepal is a patriarchal society and women, more often than not, get the raw end of the stick and are silenced about things that matter. We have identified and experienced that women who are economically and socially empowered create ripple effects in the communities around them, yet they are not often invested in to be able to do this.

Women with disabilities are not only chronically poor but carry the stigma and beliefs of their society; they often begin to embody the belief that they are disabled because of evils committed in a past life and that they bring bad luck to other people. Our centre targets the most vulnerable women and that is where we have been able to affect the greatest change. Although there are some existing NGOs for disabled people in Nepal, they are welfare based which does not have an empowering effect. We have found that investing in the initial skills training of women with disabilities has led to job opportunities that would not have been otherwise possible due to the lack of opportunity for preliminary training. Our original seven women have taken on managerial roles and have begun to employ women without disabilities, further challenging the stigma of disability in society. Word and influence spread and we now have trained and employed over 450 women. In sum, we are in some ways gender discriminatory, because we largely exist for women, to provide opportunities for empowerment that others didn’t.

The organisation respects the right of all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Where the right to join trade unions and bargain collectively are restricted by law and/or political environment, the organization will enable means of independent and free association and bargaining for employees. The organization ensures that representatives of employees are not subject to discrimination in the workplace.

Organizations working directly with producers ensure that women are always paid for their contribution to the production process, and when women do the same work as men they are paid at the same rates as men. Organizations also seek to ensure that in production situations where women's work is valued less highly than men's work, women's work is re- valued to equalize pay rates and women are allowed to undertake work according to their capacities.

The women involved at the centre are free to come and go as they like and join any groups they wish to. We have found that 60% of our women stay at the centre once trained and find jobs through channels that the centre has created; and 40% become independent enough to find jobs outside of the centre with the skills they have learnt at the centre.

Principle Seven: Ensuring Good Working Conditions, will feature in our next post.

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Byron - Seven Women, Melbourne