Working Papers – Rural Livelihoods

Serwajja, E. (2021). Victims of their Bodies: Capitalism and Exploitation of Women’s Labour on Floricultural Farms in Uganda

This paper examines the intricacies in the employment of women on floricultural farms in Uganda. Globally, floricultural farms employ predominantly women. However, women workers on the flower farms appear to be ‘victims of their bodies’ in that the socio-cultural construction of their bodies as feminine, informs the tasks they are allocated, their working conditions and remuneration. The key arguments advanced based on findings from JP Cuttings reveal that capitalism exploits women’s labour by riding on the back of social and cultural construction of their bodies: flexible, delicate, meticulous and neat. These qualities are required to handle flowers that are delicate in nature and this makes women fit for labour-intensive but less-rewarding ‘feminine’ tasks. While some departments at JP Cuttings, such as harvesters, where the embedded tasks were categorised as ‘light’ and required an eye for detail, appeared to be reserved for women, other departments, for example, maintenance, construction and repair were dominated by men because the underlying roles and responsibilities seem to rhyme with the masculine cultural description. There was not a single woman in the maintenance, construction and repair department. Similarly, not a single man was involved in the harvesting of flowers. Although socio-cultural dynamics lie on the periphery of capitalism, they are either directly or indirectly intertwined in the wider capitalistic economy. Overall, women flower farm workers were assigned work, not based on their individual abilities, but on the dictates of society and culture, particularly the ways in which the ‘feminine’ bodies are constructed.