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Investing in women in rural communities and agribusiness


Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) customer Neste, a Finnish energy company, invited GAR to share our experience on the topic of ‘Women at work and Gender Diversity’ during a workshop for their suppliers. I attended the event on behalf of the company, to not only share our experience, but also to learn best practices.

The topic of gender is not new, but remains a complex and sensitive one to handle. I explained GAR’s current labour footprint and our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP), which expects us and our affiliated companies to:

“Provide equal opportunities for all workers, and embrace diversity regardless of ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation or union membership. We shall ensure that workers are protected from any discrimination in all stages of the employment relationship”

Melissa (2nd from right) speaking at the Neste supplier event.

But what is discrimination exactly? A question raised by one of the participants was for an example of when a woman’s voice might not be heard, and therefore be subject to gender discrimination. The definition of discrimination is when the same job can be delivered by anyone, but is awarded to someone not based on meritocracy and capacity. At GAR, we strive for employment equality, ensuring that we hire based on merit and capability. However, we do see that deep set unconscious biasness exists and that these mind-sets require time to change.

Research has shown that investing in women in rural areas is beneficial for communities, and so aligned with that evidence, GAR wants to provide women with new skills to earn a livelihood. We work closely with Tzu Chi Indonesia to empower the wives of our employees working at the plantations to earn their own keep. For example, we teach them how to sew, or plant produce to make crackers, so that they can earn additional income for their families. These initiatives help to advance Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality.

In terms of affording women equal access to healthcare and resources, GAR commemorates National Milk Day and National Nutrition Day by visiting schools and community centres, to educate locals on the importance of having a balanced diet, and distribute healthy food items like milk and fruits. These events allow us to address the issue of acute malnutrition which is prevalent among women and children especially in rural areas. In addition, we provide health and dental care to these communities surrounding our estates.

Being a working woman in a male-dominated industry myself, and having been fully immersed in the topic of gender equality for the last year, I understand there is still work to be done, especially in the rural areas. GAR respects the needs of working women in both the office and plantation settings, and strives to provide fair opportunities regardless of gender. We believe that every woman is a *Kartini that deserves to be afforded the same opportunities as men, in order to create a balanced and thriving future.

*A prominent Indonesian national heroine from Java. She was also a pioneer in the area of education for girls and women’s rights for Indonesians.

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Melissa Yeoh is part of the Sustainability Relations team in GAR, specialising in international stakeholders engagement. She has over 11 years of experience in the palm oil industry, working on sustainability matters in both upstream and downstream roles such as trading, compliance, and mergers & acquisitions. Melissa is a reader with the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Sustainable Leadership and has an MBA for International Business with the University of East London. She is professionally accredited with APINDO Indonesia’s Industrial Relations Certificate Programme.

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