Ugandan co-operative pioneers gender equality scheme

A Fairtrade co-operative in Western Uganda has pioneered a ground-breaking training scheme to help to increase gender equality throughout the region.

A Fairtrade co-operative in Western Uganda has pioneered a ground-breaking training scheme to help to increase gender equality throughout the region.

The Bukonzo Co-operative in Western Uganda has 2,400 farmer members and produce some of the finest washed Arabica coffee in the world.

It is made up of 85 per cent of women and has pioneered the methodology ‘Gender Action Learning System’ (GALS), a training programme designed to tackle issues in gender empowerment such as land ownership, and division of labour.

Gender equality is a big issue in Africa, traditionally women often take a leading role in coffee production, but have little control over the proceeds .

Even in co-operatives, few women are members, because the land deeds are registered in their husband’s names. This has a knock on affect, as women are normally responsible for children, food, health and education.

Yuilda Sunday, a member of Bukonzo Co-op was kicked out of her home, because her husband sold the land without telling her. She explained: “I was living with my co-wife on our land while our husband was in town. We thought he was working but in fact he had borrowed money and then sold our land. One day a man came claiming he had bought our land. We knew nothing about it.

“This man told us to leave and when we resisted he destroyed our crops on the land. He even destroyed the house where we lived.”

She now has control her own land, she added: “Now I am happy I know the land belongs to me and I can farm it.”

Men and women take part in the GALS programme and couples analyse how they can work together to produce better coffee and make joint household decisions.

Kule Eziron, the Clan Leader, explained: “Because of the changes we are intending to make in this country in these days, we men should share equally with women. Women work more than the men on the development of the land.”

GALS also teaches members about microfinance, allowing them to understand where their money is being spent.

Teresa Kulabirahi, Member Bukonzo Joint, added: “Since we have started working together I feel more comfortable because now I know how the income is spent while before I didn’t know. Now I can spend some of the income myself.”

The training method uses pictures as most of the members are illiterate to show where their money is being spent and to explain the discrepancies between the work of women and men.

The project has been highly successful, Bukonzo Co-operative are working with an project called ‘Joint Marketing Initiative: A Project of African Coffee Farmer Co-operatives and Twin’.

JMI is made up of eleven coffee co-ops in Africa and they work with the UK based Fair Trade pioneer Twin.

Bukonzo Co-op is now working with other JMI member co-ops to train them in the GALS approach.

GALS is not the only JMI co-op working towards gender equality. Gumutindo co-op near Mount Elgon, East Africa’s oldest and largest volcano has also made huge leaps toward gender equality.

Fifty per cent of Gumutindo’s board members are women – a ground-breaking dynamic in African business. They even have a coffee called ‘Women’s coffee’ made by their 725 female coffee farmer members with the premiums going directly to the female members to invest as they choose.

Gumutindo are also working with Bukonzo on the GALS programme. JMI are dedicated to increasing gender equality in Africa and to help to spearhead a revival in Africa’s reputation for producing good quality coffee, with smallholder farmers at the heart of the movement.

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