Woman sunset

Farms where the majority of the world’s coffee come from, have supposedly an invisible workforce; the women. 60-80% of the labor is carried out by women on small holder farms but despite the fact, historically women neither got financial nor decision making power. The problem lies in their own lack of confidence as well as the community's culture where the decisions are always made by the husbands.

As mentioned by Kim Elena Ionescu, the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Sustainability Director, "Coffee economics rely on labor models that are vestiges of colonial systems that pay little to nothing for hand labor," says Ionescu, pointing towards the low-cost, temporary labor that is required every harvest.

Temporary labor requirements are not just limited to large farms, but also quite common among small-holder farms. Wherever the role of temporary labor is filled by women, minimum wages and fraudulent acts aren’t uncommon. Women labor of small-holder family run farms are no exceptions, as they account for the labor, from and beyond the harvest, performing duties all year-round.

At poverty-stricken level of coffee’s industrial infrastructure, women keep sharing, disproportionately, the labor responsibilities which can be seen clearly from planting to trimming, from picking the coffee cherries to taking them up-hill to the drying patios and from transporting the beans to the exporting mills to the manual sorting from the conveyor belt of green coffee that ultimately goes into the exportable jute bags, women are seen working at every level.

Luckily things are changing. Women are trying to get a hold of self-confidence at the time some organizations are making efforts to match at some level the contribution of the women to the industry.

Take Indonesia for example, where the non profit organization Java Mountain Coffee is making a difference by helping women in the region earn and manage premiums earned from Fair Trade guidelines. Java Mountain Coffee is an all-female cooperative in a country where women make up for about 60% of the labor and getting in return a mere 10% of income.

Take another example, Uganda, where poverty-stricken families, in the hope of finding better financial options, are focusing towards migrating to the capital city Kampala. Men leave the farms first looking for a job in the city before bringing their families and take most of their family farming funds with them. This results in more work and fewer resources left for the women back at the farm. The circumstances gave rise to the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative to design the Gender Applied Learning System [GALS]. GALS train women in getting a better understanding of ownership and responsibility.

In Colombia, thirty percent of small farm holders are women, yet they hold only eight percent of the leadership role at the state committee level in Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (FNC), according to Ana Maria Lleras, the FNC's Gender Program Coordinator. "We have these preconceptions of women versus men, victims and assailants. We want to break this barrier and go a little further where everyone is a part of this deconstruction of masculine and feminine." She says.

UNICAFEC in Peru has strongly shown a progress in women representation ratio within their co-op with number of female members on the board rising from just 20 in 2006 to 73 up now.
"When women are members in their own right they have access to information, they learn about process, premiums and are able to receive training. Therefore they can be empowered," says Felipe Alberca, president at UNICAFEC Peru.

Same is the improvement seen in SOPEXCCA, Nicaragua where the number of female members increased from mere five in 2005 to over 280 till now. The projects where the women’s premium gets used are of varied nature but all useful. For example, in Nicaragua, a mobile cervical screening unit has been financed to serve women in the community. Unicafec provides smoke free stoves to women.

Norma Gaeda Paiva, a coffee farmer and member of SOPEXCCA in Nicaragua says:"I am such a different person now to who I was before. I didn't like to speak before and would always run away. I'd feel too shy to talk and would want to disappear.There are a lot of women who are too scared to become organized and go to meetings, these are the people who still need our help. This is why I will continue to work for our visibility and value".