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Women in Tobacco Farming: Health, Equality and Empowerment

  • Teh-Wei Hu, Anita Lee

    PHI Author

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The “Women in Tobacco Farming: Health, Equality and Empowerment” study was conducted in three tobacco producing countries: China, Tanzania and Kenya.  It looked at the input of labor by women farmers, their health and availability of health care services, and their entitlement to the income generated from tobacco farming. The study provided some of the first quantitative and qualitative data on the life of women farmers working in tobacco fields. Key findings include:

  • Women tobacco farmers put in the same or more labor than men, while also maintaining the household and serving as the main child care providers.
  • The harmful health impacts of tobacco farming are more serious for women; many face respiratory issues, nausea, skin irritation, injuries and falls due to hard labor and may experience miscarriages because of working in the tobacco farms while pregnant.
  • Few women farmers in the study in the two African countries had any financial decision-making power, while the majority of women farmers in the study in China had such empowerment. In Kenya and Tanzania, men held title to the land, decided what to grow, and collected and spent revenue from tobacco. This left women without access to credit, unable to prioritize spending on their family, and experiencing domestic violence around the time when the tobacco leaves are sold.
  • Women in all three countries felt manipulated by the tobacco companies.

The report concludes that women tobacco farmers need to be provided with support to improve their livelihood and to engage in other crops as an alternative to tobacco, as many do not want to continue tobacco farming. Education opportunities, knowledge about health risks of tobacco farming and protective measures, training on communication and assertive skills, as well as better access to water and energy resources will improve the livelihoods of these women. Women need the knowledge and technical support to grow and market crops other than tobacco, as well as access to loans and cooperatives to support those endeavors.

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