Photo Courtesy of Coffee Quality Institute
Kimberly Easson, center, and international participants at Partnership for Gender Equity Workshop in Colombia.
This year, interest in women’s roles on coffee farms has reached a new zenith. Many industry leaders now acknowledge that as large numbers of smallholders abandon farms the entire industry is facing an impending labor crisis. Approximately 70-80% of the world’s coffee is produced by smallholders. Half of that labor force is female.
Women are responsible for more than coffee farming and are often restricted from making decisions about farm or family assets by law or tradition. One-sixth of the countries where women cannot be heads of households also produce coffee for export.
In September, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) announced the availability of a white paper produced by the SCAA Sustainability Council, “A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands” (SCAA report). A few days after that the World Bank released its latest version of its report on legal barriers to women and progress on legal reform “Women, Business and the Law 2016” (World Bank report, a PDF document).
The Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE), a program spearheaded by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), released its Stage 1 report “The Way Forward: Accelerating Gender Equity in Coffee Value Chains” during the 115th Session of the International Coffee Council meetings and related events of Expo Milan in Milan, Italy. A printed executive summary will also be circulated at other fall trade events including ExpoEspeciales and the conference of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance in Bogotá, Colombia in October and at Sinterfcafé in Playa Herradura, Costa Rica in November. The full report is available for free on the CQI website. The organization is encouraging wide readership and engagement in Stage 2 pilot projects.
Each publication is part of a larger effort to bring greater resilience to communities: the World Bank report focuses on laws and legal reforms as they apply to women on a national basis for 173 economies; SCAA and CQI both center on smallholder communities in the coffee sector, taking care to ground recommendations in research and make recommendations inclusive of both men and women. Though the data and scope differs, all three highlight the disparities that still exist and point out the challenges to changing gender dynamics.
Why emphasize gender?
Even in places where political laws have changed, local traditions or religious rules may erode or negate them. For example, savings accounts are often registered in a woman’s name in Indonesia. However, in Muslim communities there, women are prohibited from denying their husbands’ requests for money even if the wife earned it. Such realities hinder women’s ability to keep their children healthy or to adapt better practices while harvesting and processing coffee.
Colleen Anunu, an independent contractor, wrote a paper in support of her Master’s degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development called “Toward a Gender Inclusive Coffee Value Chain: a review and synthesis of relevant literature on gender equity in agriculture and supply chain development.” She also attended three of the four PGE workshops.
”All the big multi-lateral donors are saying they need a gender component," Anunu said. "So, what is the best way to incorporate that because it will be slow change and it won’t always be accepted? It’s not directly related to coffee production in the way that many think about it. You have to let the community make that change for themselves.”
Those are among the questions these recent publications aim to address. The SCAA white paper and the PGE report cover similar themes. Both draw on research done by aid organizations, NGOs, and academicians over the past two decades. Macro findings from organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank are interwoven with quotes drawn from focus groups and practice interviews.
Kimberly Easson, v.p. of strategic partnerships at CQI, said, “Now we have an opportunity to do more, to broaden and deepen these efforts, to build on an industry tradition of collective learning and impact. In many of the discussions we held over the past year, industry leaders have confirmed their awareness and willingness to take action.”
Balance follows baseline?
Inclusion and participation was important in the research done by PGE. It incorporated individual interviews and focus groups with industry stakeholders in consuming countries, a gender equity and international development research review, and four participatory-action-based workshops in coffee growing communities. This research is a starting point from which PGE intends to “apply lessons learned to strategy development” before developing pilot projects in Stage 2.
Participatory research and learning has been part of international development since the mid-1990s. The idea behind this approach to development work is that the best way to improve a situation is to find and use local knowledge. However, to do that, aid and development workers must establish trust with the individuals who have that knowledge. In the twenty-some years since this approach became popular, many participatory learning toolkits have been created by such organizations as ACDI/VOCA, Agri-Pro Focus, Hivos, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, Oxfam Novib, and the World Bank.
Celina Su holds the position of Marilyn J. Gittell Chair in Urban Studies at City University of New York. She also co-founded Kwah Dao, the Burmese Refugee Project which used a participatory model of community development. She took a cautionary tone when reflecting on her experience using participatory learning tools.
Su said, “Are we helping the less powerful while further marginalizing the least powerful? That’s a crucial question. The [participatory models] that work best spend as much in time and resources making sure that the process is not dominated by the local elites and that there is some diversity in participation.”
The exercises used in the PGE Stage 1 workshops grew out of a participatory training program called the Gender Action Learning System (GALS). Facilitators used two primary GALS tools to explore men’s and women’s roles in daily life, and access to and control over farm and family assets and income.
The workshops took place in Cauca, Colombia; Palacaguina, Nicragua; Mbale, Uganda; and, Takengon, Indonesia. Participants included 119 smallholder farmers (49 men and 68 women) from 40 producer organizations, most of which are fairtrade certified.
The PGE report provides “top line findings” that echo similar work in non-coffee agricultural settings: women do not have equal access to income and assets or equal authority in decision-making; women experience “time poverty” in that they do more tasks over more hours than men and this contributes to their underrepresentation in leadership positions; and legal and cultural restrictions on economic interactions and travel hinder women’s access to the rest of the supply chain. The particulars of how coffee production tasks, income, and assets might be better shared among men and women varied depending not only on the cultural background of participants, but also in some settings, by age.
These findings, taken in combination with reading the World Bank Report and the SCAA white paper, reiterate the maxim: context does matter. Any discussion of gender equity anywhere in the world must touch on cultural, financial, geographical, historical, legal, and political domains. The obvious conclusion is that empowering women is anything but simple and must include men.
An uncomfortable subject
All this attention on gender in the specialty coffee arena has not gone unquestioned. Nor are the issues that emerge when attempting to find a “way forward” easy to address.
Aside from formal focus groups, Easson and others involved in PGE have led discussions at coffee forums all over the world in the past year. Many took place at the 2015 SCAA Expo and Symposium in Seattle last April.
Some discomfort with the idea that roasters and retailers could or should engage in discussions about gender equity in producing countries with suppliers emerged in the Symposium Salon discussions following the “Gender Equity: Can Shifting our Focus Improve the Coffee Supply Chain?” presentation. Anunu attended both discussions and noted that the questions, “What is the reaction from the men? How do you deal with that?” was a major theme for one of those conversations.
Anunu also reported two other common reactions she has encountered to being involved in this work: “We have our own gender problems in the Global North. Shouldn’t we be working on our own problems?” and “What right do we have to go into other people’s countries, communities and try to change them?”
Her response was, “Any way we approach this process is going to be good because it is going to help people process how gender affects their lives.”
Numerous sources for this article emphasized a need to partner with other organizations that have local expertise, including producer organizations. Fairtrade Africa is a producer organization that is part of the Fairtrade International system, one that has developed numerous programs to encourage gender mainstreaming changes in its member cooperatives.
“The difficulty we have is how we can deal with this situation in countries with different jurisdictions, with different colonial relations,” said Chief Adam Tampuri. “Fairtrade approaches this problem by bringing the farmers all under one roof to build their capacity, to recognize the fact that women are equal to men, they are farmers, they deserve recognition, they can be credible leaders,” he said.
Fairtrade Africa has used asset transfer programs and leadership quotas with some success. For example, Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade certified cocoa cooperative in Ghana, now requires that three of seven elected representatives are women, and that one of two delegates who attend the annual conference is a woman. As a result the number of women candidates in delegate elections nearly doubled in 2014.
Data about better representation within trade organizations may come across to some as real progress. Others have concern that such measures reflect “gender-washing” and may represent temporary change. Backlashes against gender empowerment programs do happen, especially when efforts focus on women to the exclusion of men.
Hans Theyer, executive director of Fairtrade America, said, “Gender is a delicate matter, and we need to influence gender equality without being disrespectful to cultures and religions. We don’t believe that we should come with our northern perspective and impose ideas, but working hand in hand with producers we can find ways to influence how women can benefit from the Fairtrade system more equally.”
A resilient future?
Granting that context matters and unintended consequences are likely, where will all this attention on gender equity take the coffee industry? All interviewed for this article agree that paving a path to gender equity will take time, investment, and concerted, coordinated efforts from multiple stakeholders.
On considering why to pursue it, Anunu said, “What is our responsibility to incite these changes? We know it happens over [a long] time. What about the converse? If we don’t consider it, we are reinforcing it or potentially making things worse by not considering it.”
Asked to consider where lasting change comes from in developing countries, Su said, “[It] shouldn't be up to trade associations and individual communities to think about sustainability and gender equity; it should be up to governments. No trade association agreement is likely to take the place of well-designed regulations in enforcement, resources, reach, power.”
Tampuri said, “If governments were doing what they were supposed to do, there would not be the need for us to talk about premiums in the communities. But the governments have been very negligent.”
The overarching theme that emerges from these discussions and these new publications is that when women in smallholder coffee farms have more agency over their lives a higher quality product, and more of it, is the likely result.