7 March, 2018

Six Ways Fairtrade is Pressing for Progress on Gender Equality

Kenya Women in Coffee project
by Eric Fichtl, Fairtrade International

At Fairtrade, we continue to promote gender equality in sectors that have long been male-dominated.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress – encompassing everything from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements confronting entrenched sexism and abuse, to the long march toward gender equality in matters of pay, opportunity and personal freedom. In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are six ways Fairtrade is pressing for progress and empowering women:

1. Setting standards that don’t discriminate

The Fairtrade Standards set the basic rules of our trading system, and are designed to empower farmers and workers in developing countries. They cover a range of issues, from labor conditions and product-specific norms to environmental protection. They also contain provisions specifically designed to prevent gender inequality, such as a ban on discriminating on the basis of gender or marital status, prevention of the use of pregnancy tests during recruitments, and rules against Fairtrade certified organizations engaging in behavior that is intimidating, abusive or exploitative.

Our Standards also require democratic decision-making processes that give women an equal voice in the governance of their communities and workplaces.

2. Training women to lead

Fairtrade’s Gender Strategy recognizes that women’s empowerment and gender equity need to be promoted at all levels, but in line with our vision, we place special emphasis on trainings that benefit women at Fairtrade producer organizations.

One example is our Women’s School of Leadership in Côte d’Ivoire. In a country where cocoa is big business and women make up some 68 percent of the labor force, training in business skills can be a powerful tool. The inaugural class of the school brought together 24 women from seven different Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives (representing almost 5,000 members) for practical training in skills like finance, negotiation and decision-making. The school also trains men, helping them promote the value of gender equality in their communities.

3. Seed-funding locally driven women’s initiatives

Female PRODECOOP farmer

The Fairtrade Premium – an extra amount of money paid on top of the selling price that farmers and workers invest in projects of their choice – has also been a source of funding for initiatives selected by the cooperative members themselves. These can be things that benefit the whole community, such as funding for schools or hospitals, or they can be investments in members’ farms. Some cooperatives allocate a portion of Premium funds specifically to support women’s businesses.

For instance, the Fairtrade certified PRODECOOP coffee cooperative in Nicaragua has made gender justice a key driver of change. Their gender policy dedicates an amount of Fairtrade Premium towards implementing their gender program, training for field staff on working with female farmers and maintaining a 40 percent quota for women in leadership positions. PRODECOOP also encourages an equal distribution of work and resources for men and women, and raises awareness throughout coffee-growing communities about women’s rights.

4. Challenging historic gender-based patterns

Studies have shown that while women’s role in agriculture has increased over time, women have historically had less access to productive resources such as land, credit and technical assistance. This in turn reinforces patterns of female disempowerment. Fairtrade is helping to challenge this recurrent gender gap so women can stake their claim and succeed on their own terms.

Examples include the 470 women who overcame historic land ownership constraints to establish Indonesia’s first all-women coffee cooperative in 2014, in the process giving themselves a voice they’d rarely been able to raise before. Or the Fairtrade project in Kenya that encouraged the transfer of coffee bush ownership to women, who for the first time garnered their own independent income from their coffee after years of contributing up to 70 percent of the labor needed to grow and harvest it.

Nicaraguan women participating in coop meeting to determine premium investment

5. Breaking down stereotypes of “women’s work”

Historical patterns have not just defined women’s access to property rights and a vote in community affairs, but also often determined the types of work women could perform. While men and women might both cultivate plants and share the burden of the harvest, some jobs seemed to remain a male-only preserve. Through capacity building, Fairtrade is helping to change those notions.

Take the example of Ronah Peve, who works as an extension officer with the Fairtrade certified Highland Organic Agriculture Cooperative in Papua New Guinea. She took part in a coffee quality training run by Fairtrade Australia/New Zealand, and explains how this helped her become something of a role model in her community, challenging a long-accepted gender norm: “In Papua New Guinea, coffee is something that men talk about, and my job as an extension officer is a man’s job. But I have been trying my best and now women in the village come to me for advice about caring for their coffee trees. They see it is not only a man’s job."

Over 13+ years working at the Fairtrade certified Panda Flowers in Kenya, Rosemary Achieng became a supervisor and also head of the health and safety committee. She sees a shift in women’s status as a result of engagement with Fairtrade: “Fairtrade has changed [things] a lot,” she says. “Women and men now have the same rights. There are regular working hours, fixed leave days, and significantly improved safety regulations.” She attributes some of this progress to the gender committees established at flower farms by Fairtrade: “The gender committee is so important because it ensures everyone is treated equally.”

In some communities, the opportunities unlocked through Fairtrade certification and investment have increased awareness of women’s ability to contribute to household income through their own businesses. For example, the Del Campo nut cooperative in Nicaragua uses their Fairtrade Premium to support women’s emerging businesses. As one member explained, “By empowering women, we can improve the economies of our families and diversify our business into new markets: Women come up with new products… they have also opened bakeries and are keeping pigs.”

6. Developing effective interventions to dismantle persistent inequality

Fairtrade works in partnership with producer organizations, trade unions, commercial partners and other NGOs and activists to continue pushing the envelope when it comes to workers’ rights. The fact that Fairtrade is 50 percent owned by producers themselves helps us to bring firsthand experience and perspectives into multi-stakeholder talks and negotiations that are grappling with persistent inequality in these global industries.

Take the banana sector, which spans all the regions where Fairtrade producers live and work. Through her participation in the Gender Task Force of the World Banana Forum, Fairtrade’s Global Product Manager for Bananas Silvia Campos is helping to identify best practices and interventions that can enhance women’s well-being and empowerment in the sector. With the NGO Bananalink, we recently published a globe-scanning summary of these interventions, which range from basic trainings on combatting sexual harassment and promoting gender equity, to improving working conditions for expectant and nursing mothers, to boosting women’s engagement in negotiating teams and leadership. “A common theme is the meaningful impact that can be achieved when women organize themselves to make and implement decisions about the issues that affect their lives at work, at home and in their communities,” says Campos.

Of course, these are examples of incremental improvement, and there is much more work to do to bring about true gender equality. With your support for farmers and workers like these, expressed each time you enjoy a Fairtrade product, you enable Fairtrade and its partners to continue pressing for progress.

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