The importance of gender equality in business and development

A report has been published by the Fairtrade Foundation that assesses the participation of women in supply chains. The Equal Harvest study, which was published on International Women’s Day...

A report has been published by the Fairtrade Foundation that assesses the participation of women in supply chains.

The Equal Harvest study, which was published on International Women’s Day (8 March), says that enabling more women to join the organisations that grow produce such as bananas, cotton and tea, could benefit businesses and support global development, as well as bringing gains for women.

Women make up almost half the agricultural workforce in developing countries, but only account for 22% of the farmers registered as members of the 1,210 small producer organisations certified by Fairtrade.

“Local norms, attitudes and customs related to the role of men and women in society often create barriers to women’s participation,” says the report. Membership of co-operatives, for example, can be dependent on owning land or crops, while some agricultural work may be deemed inappropriate for women. Women may also be expected to undertake most of the domestic work in the home, giving them less time to participate in producer groups.

The Fairtrade Premium is often invested in projects that benefit women, such as access to childcare or training to help them diversify their income. But the report argues that increasing the participation of women farmers could boost productivity, improve development outcomes for communities, and provide opportunities to launch new products.

As part of the report, the Fairtrade Foundation collected views on why increased women’s participation should be facilitated. “It’s important to be an active member of the association because it gives women the right to vote, to participate in decision-making, the right to receive benefits and to live with dignity,” said a female banana producer in the Dominican Republic.  said that enabling women to become members of producer organisations is important because “it gives women the right to vote, to participate in decision making, to receive benefits and to live with dignity.”

A male cotton producer in India said that women should be supported to take up leadership positions because “women are more disciplined and organised and will run these institutions better, whereas men fight amongst themselves and let egos come in the way.”

Producer organisations that have taken active steps to increase the participation of women include Kuapa Kokoo, the Ghanaian cocoa co-operative that owns 45% of Divine Chocolate, which has formed district level gender committees. Almost half of its National Executive Council members, including the current President, are women.

Another is the Bukonzo Joint Co-operative Union, which brings together around 5,500 coffee-growing households in the Rwenzori mountains in western Uganda. “Over 83 percent of its members are women due to a policy of joint membership for married couples,” says the report. “The members and leaders of Bukonzo Joint have engaged in a participatory process of analysing and addressing gender inequalities in their organisation and communities. This has involved men and women farmers committing to specific actions to overcome inequalities, such as more equitable allocation of work in their households and joint decision-making on how to use household income.”

Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Ensuring that women farmers have the same opportunities to participate as their male counterparts will not only increase their income and their influence, but it could also boost the bottom line for businesses and improve development outcomes for communities in some of the world’s poorest countries.”

Fairtrade is now calling for businesses, governments, NGOs and other agencies to support and incentivise producer organisations to address gender equality.

It recommends that businesses invest in gender analysis of their supply chains, before developing a gender equality policy and action plan, while recommendations for governments in producer countries include targeting women with programmes such as agronomy training, and ensuring that loans and other support reach people who do not own land. Programmes that address the barriers facing women farmers, and build the ‘business case’ for gender equality are also needed, the report adds.

As part of its own efforts, Fairtrade International recently appointed a gender specialist, Dr Tsitsi Choruma. “While there are already some great examples of Fairtrade producer organisations working to remove the barriers to women’s participation, there is still much more work to be done,” Dr Choruma said. “Achieving gender equality for women farmers will require a concerted and collaborative effort from everyone in the supply chain.”

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