By Katherine Nolte
Gender equality is a human aspiration, not a women’s initiative. Imagine a world where opportunities are free from stereotypes associated with being masculine or feminine. Imagine a world where the work of a stay-at-home dad is valued equally to a career as a roaster-owner, VP trader, or senior finance professional. Imagine a world where it is likely to picture the roaster-owner, VP trader, or senior finance professional as a person with predominantly feminine characteristics. Imagine a world where people are free to pursue any constructive contribution to society with dignity regardless of the way they are born.
Gender equality empowers all people to actively participate in their community. It has to do with personal identity and how individuals are valued by society. It is about people interacting with people; it is as much about men as it is about women. Gender equality involves advocacy and amplification to gain the full participation from all members of society.
What does this have to do with coffee?
There is a gender gap in the coffee supply chain. A gender gap exists when there are discrepancies in status, opportunities, and attitudes between people of different genders. Creating accessible platforms to amplify underrepresented perspectives can create healthy communities in which all members can participate.
What is advocacy and amplification?
Advocacy for gender equality in coffee means to publicly support the inclusion of all genders. The Coffeewoman is an emerging initiative that advocates for gender equality. Through events, website, newsletters, and social media, the platform aims to highlight historically underrepresented perspectives in the coffee competition arena. But The Coffeewoman isn’t only for women. Rather, it is meant to amplify unheard voices to influence the barista community, which is comprised of all genders. Advocating for equality usually means empowering marginalized groups of people to be active participants in their communities.
The Barista Guild itself is an inspiring example of empowering a marginalized group through advocacy. In this case the unheard voice in coffee is the barista’s. According to career-barista-turned-business-owner, Scott Lucey, “The level of professional resources available to baristas are higher then they’ve ever been. We see more and more that career baristas become business owners.” He attributes these outcomes to the advocacy work of the Barista Guild. He also notes that the guild empowers baristas to take themselves more seriously as professionals.
How can we apply these lessons in advocacy and amplification to other marginalized groups of people in coffee?
Just as access to professional resources can empower baristas to take pride in their profession, access to fundamental resources can transform farmers, especially women farmers, into motivated entrepreneurs. As Paineto Baluku from Bukonzo Joint Cooperative in Western Uganda put it, “We are pushing things but they are not moving. If a woman works on a farm but does not see the benefit she does not care. But if a woman starts to see benefits from her work she can be very motivated and we can begin to work on quality.” Similarly, a woman farmer in Malawi told me that she used to work in coffee fields in “unmotivated laziness.” But when she began to receive income from coffee grown on land that she owned, she started running to her field every day with enthusiasm for her work.
Women smallholder farmers are a desperately marginalized group within an already marginalized group of smallholders. In Congo, women farm coffee, but they don’t own land. In Uganda, women pick coffee, but they don’t sell it. Studies consistently show that women perform 45%- 70% of work on smallholder farms, but they have limited or no access to the resulting income.
Smallholder farming households produce the majority of the world’s coffee. Therefore, incremental improvements in coffee production often happen at the household level. In areas like rural Africa, households rarely use input from all members to strategically plan their coffee businesses. An example of effective work with household businesses is Bukonzo Joint’s approach. They use a methodology where women and men create long-term goals and near-term milestones together by drawing pictures in strategic templates. Pictorial planning is a useable tool to develop strategy because the majority of farmers, especially the women farmers, cannot read or write. They have amplified the woman’s voice in their households and cooperative by creating a platform in which women can easily participate.
Advocating for equality will foster the participatory coffee communities. Active participation is necessary for coffee to reach its fullest potential. From Barista Guild to Ugandan Cooperative, creating user-friendly platforms to amplify latent and widespread perspectives will #makecoffeebetter.
Find out more about gender initiatives at origin from the Sustainability Council’s A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands available for free in the SCAA store under digital downloads.
Katherine Nolte is the Vice Chair of the SCAA’s Sustainability Council. She has worked extensively in rural Africa since 2008. She is a Senior Coffee Marketer for Twin, an NGO based in Kigali, Rwanda and London, UK. She began in the coffee industry as a barista in 2000 and is fascinated by the industry from seed to cup.
 The definition of gender is still evolving. In modern western society it has more to do with the cognitive side of being masculine or feminine, rather than the physical sex of a person. In rural coffee producing regions, however, it is more commonly associated with being a man or a woman.