Thursday 12 April 2018

Humanitarian coffee lovers – what can we do? Buy gender inclusive coffee!

Photo: Twin
I think the vast majority of people I interact with through specialty coffee are, in their hearts, humanitarians.

That is, they’re concerned about the welfare of human beings across our planet and take active steps in their own lives to make a positive difference.

These active steps are generally: who they choose to give their money to, doing or not doing things that hopefully support a positive outcome, and giving to charitable initiatives either financially or through volunteering.

We can’t change everything that’s bad, but we want to do good things that make a difference – even if they’re small, they all add up. Right?

Photo: Guardian
Now skip to some months ago when I read an article about an 18 year old female school student in El Salvador who had been raped repeatedly by a gang member, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison because she had a still birth.

Stay with me here…

…Abortion is illegal in all circumstances in El Salvador – if the mother’s life is at risk, if the woman has been raped, if the baby is not viable when born – and conclusive evidence is not required to sentence women, and female children, to 30-year gaol terms if they can be accused of abortion. Rapists are not generally pursued in these cases. And El Salvador is second behind Syria in the list of most deadly countries to be a woman.

Now what?

Boycott drinking coffee from El Salvador? Is that something I can do? A pretty pathetic effort on my part to say the least. And it’s certainly not going to help vulnerable women in El Salvador!

This prompted me to research what’s going on from a human rights point of view in other coffee producing countries. Countries I don’t know much about except that they’re printed on my designer bags of expensive coffee beans, lovingly referenced with tasting notes, back stories and brewing advice by new wave roasters from Berlin, to Copenhagen, Bath to London to many of our specialty roasters in Scotland.

I also talked to Lisa Lawson at Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee (for another story you’ll see soon) and heard about her visits to coffee growing countries. The poverty of some. The authoritarian regimes of some. The desperation to get a job in many. The startlingly small amount of money that many coffee producers make – especially compared to the pounds we pay for our chemexes, flat whites and cappuccinos in the UK. The powerlessness of so many women and children over their own bodies and lives. The reason the Glasgow Coffee Festival gives part of its profit to Girls Gotta Run – a charity that invests in girls in rural communities through running and education to empower themselves by being part of a positive female social network. This gives them a platform to meet outside their domestic environment and boosts self-esteem through personal sporting achievements. I’m ready to sign up to donating already!

Glasgow Coffee Festival donates part of its profit to
charity Girls Gotta Run - Photo: GIrls Gotta Run
So here we are, nearing International Women’s Day in 2018. While we’re working out our Kalita brew ratios and whether anyone can really justify the air miles on avocados - the rights, roles and health care of women in most coffee growing nations is devastatingly poor compared to their country-men. (I found Human Rights Watch while researching and can recommend it for a very sobering reality check about what's happening right now around the world - scroll to the bottom to choose a country).

Add to that the articles I’ve read over preceding decades about how setting women up with better conditions leads to a better world for their children, men folk, families and sustainable communities, such as this example.

The key to turning our emotional response to all this into something that can make a positive difference is knowledge. Here are some key points that help to outline why things are the way they are, and builds the case for why we should go out of our way to consider the role of women in specialty coffee.

In coffee growing countries, women generally make a greater contribution than men to the actual quality of our cups of specialty coffee due to the role they play (men are more involved in other ways). Some points from this Specialty Coffee Association paper paint the picture:
  • Women often work a 15 hour work day to men’s 8 hours including total hours spent on coffee production. This is because women’s typical household responsibilities also include child rearing, caring for the elderly, hauling water, collecting firewood, cooking meals, washing clothes, and cleaning
  • But female coffee farmers are typically limited to labouring in the field, harvesting, processing and picking out defects, whereas men typically transport, market and sell the product
  • A survey of 15 coffee-producing countries found women made up 70 percent of the workforce in the fieldwork and harvesting roles, but only participated in 10 percent of the in-country trading and export roles
  • As this sales process is generally controlled by men, it’s very hard for women to access that money. In Uganda for example, the prevailing attitude is that women should contribute to coffee farming out of duty, but should not share in the proceeds from the crop
  • The majority of land is owned by men. In some countries it’s virtually impossible to own land if you’re a woman, and in others the land sold to females is often less fertile, resulting in smaller harvests
  • The gap in coffee income across seven East African producer organisations was measured at 39% (less favourable for women). Lack of access to credit, lack of access to land, and the lack of ability to generate meaningful income create a vicious cycle for smallholders, especially for women, where the economic obstacles compound each other
  • Women are often barred from leadership, membership and training because they’re not land owners and/or don’t have a say. So they can’t develop to a point where they can make and take a greater contribution
  • If granted the same access to land, financing, and technology as men, women could increase their agricultural output by 20-30%. Again, everyone wins.
So here’s what we need to do to take our humanitarianism and turn it into positive outcomes for women in coffee growing regions, and therefore their children, families, communities and the future quality of coffee:
  • Buy coffee that promotes women’s inclusion. If you’re a roaster in Scotland, buy green coffee that promotes women’s inclusion. If you’re a café or home brewer, ask your roaster for it
  • Buy coffee that supports work on gender balance in rural households. Inherited gender biases and norms can move forward at the household level via tenacious and skilled local intermediaries who help men and women communicate and work together
  • Buy coffee from organisations that encourage female membership, female land ownership, and promotes equal access to credit
  • Support projects in coffee supply chains that promote gender equality by donating and participating – Cafes and roasters can find creative ways of sharing the stories of coffee women and involving their customers in awareness raising and donating.
  • Spend time understanding more about the gender equality behind coffee. Google it, talk about it, ask about it and create more demand. As we ask more specifically for gender equality bona fides on our specialty coffee, co-ops and importers will need to ask more questions, gathering more data, which in turn helps agencies and buyers understand the true picture and where they can best support women in coffee.
Well I feel a whole lot better now that I have something constructive to do to make specialty coffee more humane. I hope you’ll get on board too.

To get you started, here are some places you can buy specialty coffee that contributes to making lives better for women in coffee growing regions:
  • Papercup in Glasgow Uganda St Goret – Washed. With around 33 micro washing stations around the mountains servicing 5000 small holders, of which 85% are female farmers, the BJCU have been recognised by the worlds speciality coffee associations for their gender equality programs and continue to educate and support new and existing farmers within the cooperative
  • Ovenbird in Glasgow - Around 2,400 farmers, mainly women produce this Rwandan washed coffee from Sake Farm which is part of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance
  • The Steamie in Glasgow has natural Brazilian Fazenda Sitio Paraguai coffee and producer Sandra Maria Mamoed is a member of AMECAFE Women’s producer group who share knowledge and educate each other about coffee production
  • A roaster of special mention outside Scotland is Girls who Grind just South of Bath. They’re absolutely smashing it with all their coffees either produced by women or organisations that actively support women in coffee growing regions.
Some links to more information about women, coffee and inclusivity:

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