Speciality Tea – Part 7 – Women In the Tea Industry in Sri Lanka
The quintessential picture of Ceylon tea is this:
Yes, it’s still very much the same, as it has been for more than a century. This is even more common, (watched over):
In of the tea estates that I visited this year this was a common phenomenon. From the tea fields to the tea factories, the tea plantation workers were predominately women.
I spoke to (hear my conversation with a tea plantation worker on IGTV or my previous blog; https://missteasmith.com/speciality-tea/ – Growing and Plucking Ceylon Tea. In this recording, she explains that she gets breakfast ready for her children before school and she sees them off to the bus stop. She also gets the rest of the day’s meals prepped for the children’s return since she will not be around at the time. She might then tackle some of the household chores before she catches the bus herself to the tea estate. All this before 8 am.
Sri Lanka is in the tropics, so the changes in weather are driven primarily by the monsoon seasons. Ceylon tea is picked throughout the year, the tea plantation workers’ have Sundays off. Including national and religious holidays, plantation (some) workers are given time off for sickness and familial reasons and occasions.
The working day starts generally around 8am with a short tea break mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Tea pickers will then have a longer break for lunch and will generally end the working day at 4 pm. Whereas the factory workers have a different work pattern. Tea factories generally operate 24 hours a day (not on Sundays or public holidays) so employees will work in shifts.
Fields to factory, the force behind it are the women folk. From picking to packing tea, its women who manage it all.
This pattern does not seem to transcend to the tea tasting room. In all my tea estate visits, there was only one estate which had a female apprentice. She diligently set out the tasting room; tasting cups, spoons, weighted the tea, boiled the water to temperature and brewed the tea. When the timers went off, she strained all the teas, and got the teas ready for tasting. She then followed the tea master while he tasted and made comments on the taste, look and feel of the tea.
Here she is:
It’s a fantastic way of learning by literally following a tea master and listening to experience and asking questions. I do hope she goes on to make it a profession.
Waiting to be called into the tea tasting room, I chatted to the office staffs who were primarily women. They too manage family and childcare with work. Interesting that the challenges that they face balancing their home responsibilities with those at work and how far their career progresses is very similar to those same restrictions applied (or not) in the rest of the world.
Female workers in tea are mostly employed on the tea fields, factories, clerical and administrative levels. Rarely does this trend seem to make its way to middle, senior management and certainly not where policy is made. You have seen all the videos I have posted over the course of these last few weeks. The work done to plant, harvest, process and pack your tea is done by women.
In all areas of their work, women are paid less, and where the labour is much harder, far less than men!!
This article for gal-dem delves deeper into the conditions that are prevalent in the tea trade; http://gal-dem.com/the-bitter-truth-of-sri-lankas-ceylon-tea/
Time to make changes, don’t you think?
Do we ask for policy change? Cultural change? Change one tea estate at a time?