Twin Celebrates International Women's Day

Posted by Hannah Ward on 8 March 2017


On International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my reflections from my first direct experience in February of Twin’s work towards greater gender justice in coffee, attending the AFCA fringe event, ‘Transforming the terrain for Gender in Coffee’, organised by Twin and the Partnership for Gender Equality.

It’s not often that the very first day of a new job involves a long-haul flight on a Friday night to Addis Ababa, but that’s where I found myself, on the way meet many of Twin’s African coffee partners ahead of AFCA for our annual planning and review meeting (on Maanda and JMI).

Following our meetings, we co-hosted the event, ‘Transforming the terrain for Gender in Coffee’. The event was designed to bring together a range of partners to discuss coffee and gender justice: what’s working, what’s not, what the business case is and how to accelerate gender equity across the supply chain.

The day kicked off with a panel discussion that heard directly from producers about their experiences in the field, exploring the critical links between women’s empowerment and gender justice. We heard how success in these areas can strengthen the resilience of coffee farming families and businesses, emphasising why these are crucial issues for industry to get to grips with.

We heard from Fortunate Paska of HRNS who spoke about the importance of all family members – men, women and youth - benefitting from coffee farming, in order to make it sustainable. “When women and men are equally supported, families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. In short, communities become more resilient.”

We heard about the female members of Mzuzu Coffee, in Malawi. Their gender coordinator Blessings highlighted how, for generations, coffee was regarded as a male crop – women would work in their husband’s fields but didn’t benefit from their labour and as such, didn’t feel any pride in the crop or care much about production. Mzuzu’s Women in Coffee programme set about changing this, working to increase female membership, disseminating training to women members, increasing women’s economic empowerment, female leadership and the market for coffee grown by women. All in all, giving women a reason to be involved in coffee, giving them ownership of their crop (including re-negotiating complex family land tenure cultures – see Twin’s Women, Coffee and Land Report), and ultimately, deriving more benefit from coffee.

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At Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union in Uganda, the impact of their gender-integrated approach has been transformational and forms a crucial part of their identity. They won the SCAA Sustainability Award in 2015 for their work in this area. Gender inequality amongst the coffee communities who today form Bukunzo Joint used to be stark. Paineto Baluku of Bukunzo Joint explained how women were perceived as their husband’s property, and often working the land with no reward. A question was raised as to how communities can transform from this to a place of gender equity in work and decision making. Paineto highlighted that the participatory methodologies (GALs) they employ from community through to cooperative level have enabled such positive change. Households and communities have wholeheartedly taken the tools on board – and their uptake has been reinforced by the results and impact achieved, both on improved gender equity and on coffee production and quality. Savings schemes were also crucial to help families through periods of fluctuating incomes, and in ensuring women’s involvement in financial decision making came in conjunction with the roll out of micro-credit schemes. 

But what about the market? And why should the coffee industry be involved?

Twin presented market research conducted in partnership with Atlas Coffee Importers in early 2016 on coffee specifically marketed as grown by women. Industry folk in the room concurred with the findings of the research: the top drivers of sales will always be quality and price and then, to a lesser degree, the ‘feel good’ factor. What matters most to the market is a sustainable, high quality supply – if gender interventions and coffee grown by women can provide this, then it makes an interesting business case. Being new into Twin and these issues, but a keen coffee drinker and feminist, I feel we must find ways to engage coffee drinkers in these realities. The position of women growing coffee can be starkly different from our own, often with few rights and little power or recompense for their work. If buying a coffee grown by women goes some way towards shifting the power dynamic, and we are aware of a body of work behind it at producer organisation and household level, then it makes a powerful proposition. Engaging coffee drinkers is clearly complex but it also presents opportunities.

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To support more systemic change, some industry members felt it was important to look for ways to convince more mainstream businesses to engage and invest to ensure that gender issues are prioritised across the whole sector. And how do we do this? There was general consensus that there needs to be more hard evidence, through monitoring, evaluation and learning, of the business case to demonstrate why investing in gender programmes is both important and valuable. There is a sense that it’s the right thing to do and stories from the field indicate that there is a link with improved productivity and quality, but industry partners need more comprehensive data if they are to convince colleagues (and board members) to invest in this work. At Twin, whilst we have an MEL component across all of our project work, our challenge is to work out the best ways to disseminate and share this information with industry partners.

So to conclude. Coffee grown by women and marketed as such, that is part of a wider gender justice programme, can have a significant impact on households and producer communities. Quality and price should be a given. There are clear links too between gender justice, prosperous communities and the long term sustainability of coffee. But as well as having a nice story to tell, there has to be a compelling business case through robust data to substantiate why investing in this work makes sense for industry. And if this business case is there, and if coffee grown by women takes off, it may just be that the mainstream market follows where the specialty market leads. And only then can we achieve scale. 

On this International Women’s day in particular it’s clear we’ve a long way to go towards gender equality, but I’ve been blown away by some of the work and progress that is happening within coffee communities. We’ll be hosting a gender discussion at SCAA in April, continuing to build industry-wide awareness of the value of this work. Come see us there!