Women produce between 60 to 80 percent of the world’s food supply, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
In the right circumstances, that can be important, rewarding work.
But women make up only 10 to 20 percent of landowners in developing countries, meaning many lack control over their circumstances and futures.
Farming is already a tough business, and there’s no denying the unfortunate truth - that women face even more challenges than men when it comes to earning fair wages, owning land or having a say.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead, we can build a gender-balanced world. Achieving this balance is not a women's issue, it's a business issue. A World Bank report in 2018 found that globally, countries are losing US$160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.
Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive. Collective action and shared responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world is key.
Fairtrade works with producer organisations to make sure women can participate as members and are given an equal vote in the democratic process governing the organisations.
We run workshops and training sessions so female farmers and workers can build their leadership skills and abilities, and gain more confidence in sharing their opinions.
Fairtrade also works to build men’s understanding of the value of having women in leadership positions, and how to shift away from enforcing traditional gender roles that exclude women.
Leading the charge for gender equality
Fairtrade encourages women to take on management and ownership of the resources that enable them to generate an income.
This approach has helped to empower people to make an impact on their lives and communities. Among them is Bethy, who has been farming in Shepte, Peru for 40 years.
A member of the Acopagro cocoa-growing cooperative for the last two decades, Bethy has witnessed transformational change in the local industry, while boldly embracing the opportunities provided by Fairtrade to become a respected and knowledgeable figure in the local agricultural community.
Together with her husband Samuel, mother of five Bethy works the Roca Fuerte (Strong Rock) farm, named for its capacity to resist the erosion and flooding that can accompany the heavier rainy seasons in the San Martin region, on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest.
Rising to the challenge
Looking after the farm, which also acts as a local research plot for irrigation technology, is just one part of Bethy’s success story.
She proudly serves as Shepte’s Acopiador, a vital volunteer position requiring specialist knowledge in which she is responsible for coordinating the collection, drying and fermentation of the town committee’s cocoa group.
“In 2009 the cooperative asked the farmers to choose someone to be in charge of that position,” she told a Fairtrade ANZ representative during a visit to the region in August 2018.
“Some of the male farmers were afraid because they hadn’t been trained or maybe they felt they couldn’t do it. They were a little shy.
“I saw that as an opportunity, said that I could do it and decided to assume that responsibility.
“Now, we have been very successful and learned a lot. As a matter of fact, last year we won a prize, a contest for the best post-harvest module managers. Of the top 10 managers, we were in third place.”
Bethy also embraced the chance to represent the Shepte committee within the wider Acopagro cooperative.
“All of the people were shy so I took the opportunity to be the delegate that year,” she said.
“As a delegate I travelled to Ecuador… I like it because I can have other experiences. I have learned a lot. I have also participated in the elections committee. I’m proactive because otherwise these opportunities might pass and they won’t come back.”
An equal partnership
Bethy told us she has been able to provide her children with an education, improve her financial security and quality of life, all while working in partnership with Samuel.
“Both of us share the tasks, the work,” she said.
“Both of us help each other. Some days if he can’t do the farming here, I do. Sometimes I can’t, then he does. It’s a family’s work.”
She Deserves a fair go
While Bethy and her family are thriving, many women cocoa farmers around the world are still struggling. They may plant and harvest on the farm, look after children, carry water, collect wood, cook and clean for the family, and transport the cocoa beans to market, but often still have fewer rights than men, despite generally being the backbone of their communities.
This is why Fairtrade is working closely with not only producers from West Africa, to Peru, and many more in between, but also with governments, chocolate companies and retailers. If we can work together to make the commitments and policies necessary to transform trade so that it is fair for all, then we can make it happen.
You have the power to drive this change by choosing to buy products - such as coffee, chocolate and tea - carrying the Fairtrade Mark. Your choices can empower women farmers to participate as equals, control their futures, and invest in their communities.
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