International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In 2014 the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take 79 years to close the gender gap but in 2015 that timeline was extended to 118 years due to slowdowns in progress. Agriculture is a key sector to improve the gender parity; it is the largest employer in developing countries and the entire global population depends on agriculture to survive.
This week, De la Gente is celebrating International Women’s Day with a blog series focusing on the topic of gender equity within the coffee industry. Gender equity is very close to our hearts here - we’re proud that 4 of our 7 staff members are women and that our work is contributing to a more equitable coffee industry for both women and men. But our impact is just a small tick on the global scale of inequalities women face every day.
Around the world 1.6 billion women depend on farming for their livelihoods; 150 million men and women depend on coffee as their primary form of income. Despite playing a central role in agriculture, women coffee farmers yield 20-30 percent less than their male counterparts. Women own less land, have less access to credit, face greater difficulty obtaining key inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers, control fewer assets, have fewer training and leadership opportunities, and have less access to market information and trade opportunities. These difficulties, along with the work that is still necessary in the home (cooking meals, washing clothes, grinding corn, helping with homework, breastfeeding their babies, caring for sick family members), have a tremendous impact on the women who are working equally as hard as the men in the field but yielding less.
Investing in gender equality leads to improvements in quality and quantity throughout the coffee value chain because it provides women with access to the information and key resources they need to produce better coffee, resulting in higher income for families and communities. As coffee importers, we facilitate meaningful relationships between buyers and producers through our direct trade model. We are excited to continue exploring opportunities to minimize the gender gap in agriculture as it relates to the coffee sector.
De la Gente works with five coffee cooperatives across Guatemala, and for this year’s harvest we are proud that 31% of exporting cooperative members are women. Additionally, in 2015, 2 of the 3 largest contributors to export from the San Miguel Escobar Cooperative were women! Lesbia and Virgilia continue to be leaders in the cooperative and the community, working hard to care for their coffee throughout the year, while giving tours through our community tourism program, and continuing their work in the home. We are extremely proud of this accomplishment as the coffee sector, just like most agriculture, in Guatemala is typically male dominated. We believe that coffee can create economic opportunities for families and communities and with this lens of gender parity we are seeing our work as a driver to create a more equitable Guatemala.
In an effort to continue the advancement and support of women in agriculture we launched the Women's Fund in 2014, a dedicated fund to support the female farmers in the cooperatives we partner with through micro financing and land loans. This fund, in collaboration with the training, technical assistance and access to markets through our direct trade model are enabling female farmers to succeed in meeting their goals and providing for their families.
We see accessible financing as a powerful tool to open up opportunities for individuals, families, and communities to start businesses, increase their incomes, and better provide for their families. While land in Guatemala can be relatively inexpensive, it is largely unattainable for individuals, particularly women, who cannot get a bank loan which typically comes with high interest rates. Thus far, through the Women’s Fund three women have received loans providing them with the opportunity to increase their land holdings to grow more coffee, resulting in more economic stability. All three of these women now employ other community members during harvest season and are proud to be able to send their children to school and save for the future.
We invite you to join us this week, as we visit with women farmers, cafe owners, and local artisans, to hear more about their stories, dreams, setbacks, and accomplishments. You can also join us in celebrating International Women’s Day today and everyday by buying and drinking De la Gente coffee. If you would like to support the advancement of women coffee cooperative members in Guatemala, please consider making a contribution to the Women’s Fund by contacting Beth Johnson, Director of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.