(Women harvesting coffee in Bali, Indonesia)
The coffee industry is one of the biggest worldwide. Coffee is—and this should be quite a shocking fact—the second most traded commodity after oil. And many would argue: oil runs the world. That should give you an idea of how big the coffee industry is.
For such a big industry that is present all over the world, it’s easy to see that the people putting in the work aren’t really represented all that much. Try to think of what a coffee farmer looks like. Difficult, isn’t it?
The truth is that coffee farmers come in all shapes and sizes. There are grown men, and there are pubescent children growing the coffee that we enjoy.
And there are women.
The impact of women in the coffee industry is bigger than we might think. In this article, we’ll talk of three countries in particular where women are making a big impact in the coffee industry.
Peru has a very large percentage of indigenous people that retain their ethnic ancestry, as well as their culture, language, and so on—to put it into context, Native Americans make up 1.6% of the country’s population, while Native Peruvians make up 25.7%
Most, if not all of Peru’s coffee is grown by indigenous people who live in the Andes mountain range, usually in high altitudes and far away from the rest of civilization in small villages.
Peru was once the heart of the Inca Empire. In the Inca culture, women and men led very similar lives. Women fought alongside men and worked any job, even while pregnant. In the Inca culture, women have always shared the spotlight.
Unfortunately, this dynamic changed drastically ever since Peru was colonized. Women now earn less and have less rights than men.
Café Femenino, or “Female Coffee”, is an initiative that looks to give women more rights and more power within the country’s coffee industry.
This movement stands out among one of the most successful ones. Café Femenino gives women farmers legal rights to the lands they farm, as well as a voice in the business. They have more mobility when it comes to jobs, and can access other positions in the industry besides farming.
What’s particularly interesting about Café Femenino is that it is an all-female initiative. These lands are exclusively tended to by women, managed by women, and women are the ones who profit from it. In an industry and a culture so oppressive when it comes to gender, this is a great step forward.
Colombia hardly needs an introduction. It has been for decades one of the most famous countries for coffee lovers around the world. It has gained a reputation as one of the countries with the best-tasting coffee—if not thebest.
A lot of this world-famous coffee is tended to by women. They work in the farms, they keep the books, and many of them own coffee estates. The problem is that, for those who work tending to the fields and doing such less-visible work, the pay is less.
In Colombia, inequality is a very real thing. Women are often relegated to taking care of their home and they are seen as incapable of working to support themselves. When they dowork, it can be seen as improper if it’s not a typically female job. This might be one of the reasons why women coffee farmers, and in general women working in the coffee industry, make much less than men.
In 2017, a $100,000 dollar grant went to Colombia Coffee Women’s Empowerment Movement, which was started by women in the industry looking for a solution to this inequality.
The money has been put into educating women working in the coffee industry so as to enable them to perform better at their job, and be able to attain a better job within it.
The population of Kenya is around 53 million people. The coffee industry of Kenya employs around 6 million people a year; that is more than 10% of the population, a staggering figure which shows the size of the industry in this country.
In an impoverished country such as Kenya, working in the coffee industry is a privilege. A privilege that, until not very recently, was reserved only for men.
Farming has historically been a man’s job. Since the start of agriculture, women tended to the house and kids, while men tended to the cattle and fields. This paradigm, however, is quite outdated in the society we live in today—and yet many people still believe that the role of women should be the same as it was thousands of years ago.
The goal of Growing Women in Coffee is to change that.
By educating women in how to farm coffee, Growing Women in Coffee gives Kenyan women the tools to enter the coffee industry and therefore make money by themselves.
In many cases, Kenyan women don’t have access to jobs at all, and are left to care for the needs of the home, which can involve more than 20 hours a week of just procuring firewood. This is arduous and sometimes impossible work in lands where firewood is more and more scarce.
Women who can work have more money and can afford to buy firewood or, in the best of cases, gas-powered kitchens.
This means saving hours of work a week, a cleaner environment and a much-needed boost to the Kenyan economy.
Marion Ng’ang’a, founder of Growing Women in Coffee, sincerely believes that by empowering women, their communities—and eventually the country’s economy—can benefit.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women don’t have the same rights as men do in some coffee-growing countries. Fortunately, women in these communities are starting to step up and create groups to help each other.
Such groups are making women in the coffee industry more visible than ever, and they are beginning to have rights and power than they never had before.
Hopefully, in the future, women will be able to grow coffee and get paid the same as men, have the same right to their land as men, and be able to hold the same job within the industry as men. Until then, all we can do is support them in every way we can.
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