Oikocredit US teams up with Global WA to explore gender equality & coffee

Oikocredit US teams up with Global WA to explore gender equality & coffee

May 1, 2018 at 5:39 PM - by Madeleine Levine - 0 comments

The event featured an expert panel, discussion, and networking focusing on gender imbalances and empowering women in coffee-growing regions of the world.

The Seattle region is no stranger to coffee. In April of 2018, the annual Global Coffee Expo took place in Westlake Tower in Downtown, Seattle to celebrate and explore all things coffee. At a special reception called “Women Hold up Half the Cup”, guests were invited to discuss gender equity within coffee and listen to an expert panel, including Frank Rubio, head of agriculture at Oikocredit International, and Andrea Ribeiro Gonçalves Mendes, financial manager of COOPFAM (Oikocredit agriculture partner). Additional speakers included Kelly Goodejohn (Starbucks), Colleen Anunu (Fairtrade America USA), and KJ Zunigha (Global Partnerships).

Gender equality within the coffee sector is an important, complicated issue. The Specialty Coffee Association of America published a paper this year highlighting the challenges women face in coffee: “Overall, women earn less income, own less land, control fewer assets, have less access to credit and market information, greater difficulty obtaining inputs, and fewer training and leadership opportunities.” It is difficult for women to be as successful as men across the value chain; from farming, production, sales, management, and up to positions of leadership.

Oikocredit has been devoted to empowering women across all sectors, taking great care to choose partners and collaborators that focus on gender equality in clear terms. During the coffee panel discussion, Frank Rubio specified the large role that gender plays in Oikocredt’s agriculture portfolio, “Our footprint in gender is really related to our partners. We work through partner organizations, and their footprint is our footprint.” He explained that many of Oikocredit’s agriculture partners offer specific services geared towards women, including microloans, specialized trainings, and health clinics for women and their families. The most successful co-ops have clear mandates for the number of women they should have in leadership and governance, in addition to specific trainings to help women become co-op leaders, managers and business owners. OI rewards these female empowering programs with incentives, such as discounted loans.

COOPFAM is a successful fair trade and organic certified coffee cooperative of small scale farmers located in Minas Gerais in Southeastern Brazil. They have been dedicated to empower women in coffee production and leadership roles. Andrea Ribeiro Gonçalves Mendes shared how women began by accompanying their husbands to co-op meetings, but realized that they could have a greater impact and more autonomy by organizing themselves. The women are responsible for a women-only coffee called Café Organic Feminino, which sells at a 10% premium and is reinvested in the women’s development through technical assistance, health plans, and other trainings or projects in off season. As a result, they are seeing more and more women become leaders. Andrea expressed how the women not only advance themselves – they make sure to include member of the community who may not have the same access or opportunities. It’s clear that helping women helps the whole community.

The coffee industry remains a male dominated industry. It’s clear that directly financing women can be difficult, Frank explains, but over the years Oikocredit and its partners, such as COOPFAM, have learned what does work. It starts with understanding the types of trainings, assistance, and opportunities women need to advance, and empowering women to see themselves as independent, capable, leaders.

To watch the panel discussion on Global WA's website, click here.


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