Café con Espiritu de Mujer
About a 7 hour drive from our office in Antigua and tucked away in the mountains of Huehuetenango in Guatemala’s western highland lies Unión de Pequeños Cafecultores (UPC), one of our 5 partner cooperatives. Straddling the border with Mexico, this mountainous terrain is gorgeous and lush, but also rugged and menacing.
Being a woman in these rural areas of Central America can be challenging, not least because of the terrain. Deeply entrenched gender stereotypes mean that the majority of men see the women’s place in the household, and little to no child-care support ties mothers to their homes. More often than not, women lack opportunities for education, health care and work opportunities. Rates of domestic violence in Guatemala are some of the highest in the world. To top it off, high migration to Mexico and the United States has left many women managing the household, families, and coffee plants, on their own.
The strong women of Guatemala have always risen to the challenge but thankfully things are starting to change. UPC is challenging gender stereotypes by prioritizing women’s equality, including women as part of their executive board, and promoting membership of their women’s group. Over 35% of the cooperative’s members are female, and the majority of women produce the highly prized organic coffee, “Café con Espiritu de Mujer” (“Coffee with Women’s Spirit”), grown on their own land that they have either purchased through a microloan, or inherited from their husband or fathers.
“We realized that women were experts in all of the drying processes of coffee, and supporting them further was very important to us. Integrating women into the cooperative has not only helped them with extra income, but it has also improved the work of UPC,” says Jacinto Gabriel Ruiz, General Manager of UPC.
UPC’s 22-strong Women’s Group is headed by Orfa, a woman farmer whose husband spends 6 months of the year in the United States for work. Their members meet once per month to talk about important issues like gender equality, women’s rights, domestic violence, women’s health and family planning. With support from other organizations, some of their members have attended workshops on these topics in order to facilitate among themselves, and support each other as women in this male-dominant, machismo, society.
Their goal for the future is to grow and to incorporate more women into their group. They also recently opened a bakery, led by ten of the members, that operates out of Orfa’s house. Built up from small savings collected by the women and staffed on a rotational basis, it provides the women with extra income to spend on the education of their children and the wellbeing of their families. Their dream is to expand to a cake shop in the near future.
“Before, only men owned the land and we didn’t know where they spent the money. Now that we have our own land and our own income, we have gained self-confidence,” says Blandi Maricel Cobón, Vice-President of UPC, Orfa’s sister and member of the women’s group, on the changes she has seen since the women’s group was formed ten years ago. “Now the women speak their opinions in the meetings, and they have realized that they have the right to leave the house and the right to study.”
We couldn’t agree more! Join De la Gente in celebrating the strong women in your life by sending them a bag of coffee produced by the women of UPC for International Women’s Day on March 8th, and donating to De la Gente’s Women’s Fund, which supports women farmers with small loans so they can buy more land and acquire the skills and resources they need to earn a dignified income.