International Women's Day #BalanceforBetter
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 and highlight the need to build a gender-balanced world, it is worth reflecting on the women working on farms around the world, providing us with the foods we love and use but perhaps do not understand the processes that go to make them. This year, the Rainforest Alliance turns its eyes to the global coffee trade, where women’s work goes unnoticed and their voices too often go unheard.
But there are also success stories. When Florence Njiraini’s new husband gifted her 1,500 coffee plants on the slopes of Mt. Kenya, she knew almost nothing about farming. Determined to make her plot a success, she set about learning as much as she could, and soon she was employing sustainable growing practices. Today, Njiraini is not only successful as a farmer, she is also the lead farmer for the Mutira Farmers’ Cooperative, a group of more than 5,500 Kenyan smallholders that has been Rainforest Alliance Certified since 2013 — and she’s a model to other farmers, particularly women, throughout her region.
But her story remains unusual. Nearly half the world’s agricultural work is performed by women but, unsurprisingly, they have far less access to resources - to credit, to training and to information - than their male counterparts. In fact, when people talk about farmers, they usually refer to the men. But, as the world’s farmers struggle to produce food for a rapidly growing population on a shrinking area of arable land, development experts believe gender equality will become critical to global food security. In Latin America, one in five farmworkers are women; in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, that figures rises to half all agricultural labourers.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, if the playing field in farming were made level, women could increase yields by 20-30 per cent. At the same time, numerous studies have shown that, when women control household income, they are more likely than men to spend money on their families - on food, clothing, education and health-related items -with benefits for the entire community. Research also shows a 20 percent increase in childhood survival rates when women manage their household budget. And, if women were paid fairly, businesses in all sectors would also see benefits - in terms of staff retention, productivity and the general wellbeing of their workforce.
The case for supporting women in farming is clear and pressure is mounting on business from governments, NGOs and civil society to comply with the UN guidelines for Business and Human Rights. This is particularly true for forced labour issues, strongly linked to gender issues, and for sexual harassment, as evidenced by the growth of social movements such as #MeToo.
The good news is that companies are starting to take these issues more seriously. Women’s organisations, particularly in farming and agriculture, are getting stronger - and products made by women are becoming more and more sought after. In coffee, in particular, one of Rainforest Alliance’s key certified commodities, gender issues are starting to receive more attention. In 2018, the central theme of International Coffee Day was “women in coffee”, highlighted with the launch of a documentary on gender in coffee.
Within the coffee sector, the International Women in Coffee Alliance, funded in 2003 by women from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the US, now has 22 country chapters. One of these has organised regional competitions of women coffee grafters in the last five years.
From a global perspective, there is a broad consensus among development and supply chain experts that, without women’s empowerment, the world will not meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the Rainforest Alliance, we’ve seen that the advancement of women is key to improving sustainable livelihoods in the agricultural sector. And men’s participation in women’s empowerment initiatives is an integral part of the process. Ignoring the role of men [in the battle for gender equity] can lead to undesired outcomes, such as low participation rates by women and lack of sustainability over time, or even increased gender-based violence.
Gender equality can provide businesses with the opportunity to hire from a wider pool of talent, gain greater insights into consumers’ needs, and improve the security and quality of supply.
Companies that haven’t done so already should make 2019 the year to take action on gender equality. As the #Balanceforbetter campaign highlights, “everyone has a part to play - all the time, everywhere. From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.” Let's all help create a #BalanceforBetter.
The author is Joky Francois, Global Theme Lead Gender, Rainforest Alliance. Joky started working for pre-merger UTZ Certified almost three years ago. She currently works as a global gender lead based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Joky studied social forestry in the Netherlands and after that lived and worked for many years in Bolivia, Ecuador and Pakistan. During this time, she worked in different contexts on projects from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), international cooperation’s, NGO’s and as an independent consultant. Her work on gender and women empowerment has always been in the context of the participative management of natural resources, sustainable production systems and/or food security. She is particularly interested in participatory learning processes and influencing processes of change with positive and inspiring people and examples.