Wendy

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2010

Citation

This profile was prepared when Wendy Pekeur was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Though women make up a majority of the agricultural workforce in South Africa today, and a number of historical, societal, and economic factors; women on patriarchal, industrial-scale South African farms still have little power over their lives. In the past, formal labor contracts had been signed with men and only through their husbands were women guaranteed work on farms. Though the roles of men and women farm laborers have changed over the years and since the end of Apartheid, many female farmers have yet to exercise their full rights. In 2004, in this challenging setting, Wendy formed Sikhula Sonke (meaning “We grow Together” in isiXhosa). Through Sikhula Sonke, Wendy is ensuring the equality of people on farms, with a particular focus on women and seasonal workers who, to date, have had little (if any) representation. Today, Wendy and her team ensure that minimum employment standards are adhered to by farm owners; these include providing farm laborers and seasonal workers with livable minimum wages, health benefits, safe working conditions, and fair mediation of the termination contracts.

To eradicate the high levels of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), spousal abuse, and alcohol and drug addictions, Sikhula Sonke trade union is introducing a new code of behavior and professionalism to the farming environment in South Africa. In addition to demanding fair wages paid in legal tender and not in bottles of wine, Sikhula Sonke is changing the cultural norms surrounding seasonal farm work. The union and its members are promoting a new ethos that values empathy and respect for farm workers, particularly women, the disabled, and temporary employees. Men committed to this new system can join too, but those who wish to be represented by the union are required to first sign a resolution to desist from practicing any form of violence against women. With its growing support base and bargaining power, Sikhula Sonke has been able to better negotiate with farm owners on behalf of farm workers. As a result, the union has been successful in expanding and revolutionizing the support being offered to people on farms. Some is Sikhula Sonke’s hard-fought victories since its founding include setting a minimum wage standard for farm workers, securing childcare services on farms, providing access to savings plans to cover the costs of funerals (a vital social service), and ensuring better working hours and working conditions.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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