Women in the Coffee Industry: Cozying up to Quality and Leadership (Part 2)

Solutions for Gender Inequality in the Industry

By Colleen Luckett

This is part two on gender inequality in the coffee industry and how the industry is addressing the issues. In part one I discussed gender inequalities facing the global coffee industry, especially in growing and production.

Women have significant work roles but meager earnings

Phyllis Johnson, president of BD Imports, says: “Women are on the front lines when it comes to our beloved cup of coffee. They serve as the primary labor force on roles that most affect quality, from picking the ripe coffee cherries off the tree to sorting beans throughout processing. Despite their significant role, most earnings go to men who own the property and manage commercial deals.” BD Imports claims on their website that they’ve championed women’s empowerment and involvement for more than a decade to further develop the value chain and grow local economies.

Overwhelming research has shown that when women are empowered in business and take on more leadership roles, communities thrive.

Solutions for achieving gender equality are at hand

So, let’s look at some of the proposed solutions! The Coffee Quality Institute started the Partnership for Gender Equity (the Partnership) in the fall of 2014. Their 2015 report, “The Way Forward: Accelerating Gender Equity in Co­ffee Value Chains,” includes eight major recommendations:

  • Increase women’s participation in training programs and revise training programs to be gender sensitive
  • Develop a list of gender equity principles for coffee
  • Improve women’s access to credit and assets
  • Achieve greater gender balance in leadership positions
  • Support joint decision making and ownership of income and resources at the household level
  • Specifically source and market coffee from women producers and coffee produced with gender equity
  • Invest in programs to reduce time pressures for women
  • Continue to build understanding through research and measurement

In the full report, which drew on industry feedback and experience, extensive research accompanies these recommendations, with links to relevant case examples of good practice. Download the full report for more detailed information.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America, in their white paper, “A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands,” backs these eight initiatives but has one more up its sleeve: advocate for gender equality. They explain that when a “critical mass of stakeholders” recognize how important gender equality is for the coffee industry, great social change can take place.

Projects focused on gender equity are increasing

Three of 37 women who formed the all-female ASOMOBI cooperative in Costa Rica. Image from YouTube video.

Three of 37 women who formed the all-female ASOMOBI cooperative in Costa Rica. Image from YouTube video.

Today, projects focused on gender equality are growing across many coffee countries. A few examples: Bloomberg Philanthropies recently committed $10 million through the Relationship Coffee Institute for women’s economic development through coffee initiatives in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Costa Rica, cooperative ASOMOBI operates the country’s first women-run micro-mill, profiled in the film A Small Section of the World. The International Women’s Coffee Alliance operates chapters around the world, finding regional solutions to help women in coffee production.

Woman member of ASOMOBI cooperative processing beans. Image from YouTube video.

Woman member of ASOMOBI cooperative processing beans. Image from YouTube video.



Of course, there's no cozy one-size-fits-all resolution—each community comes with its own cultural complexities and solutions. “Changing gender-norms is like chipping away at an iceberg,” says Phyllis Johnson. “It takes time and great patience. Women coffee farmers are often hindered by traditional patriarchal systems that exclude them from primary decision-making, as well as a lack of technical skills, and increased violence due to precarious work conditions.” Johnson stresses that we can’t neglect the need to transform  gender equity in coffee-producing countries.




Have added solutions for this problem or thoughts about the ones recommended so far? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Perry LuckettComment