Behind every cup of coffee is a story.
Behind many stories, a struggle.
Women make up almost half of the agricultural workforce worldwide, and nearly 43% in developing countries, according to this 2016 report from The State of Food and Agriculture.
Coffee production, in particular, relies heavily on a female workforce. At the farm level, women laborers are largely responsible for collecting the coffee cherries, sorting the green coffee beans, overseeing the drying process, and so much more.
Here, women’s struggles run the gamut, from severe income imbalances, a lack of representation, land control limitations, and – sadly – hazardous working conditions stemming from assault and harassment by their male counterparts.
Fieldwork, too, is not the stage in which money is exchanged, and therein lies the greatest problem. A lion’s share of all earnings continues to be earmarked for men worldwide as land accessibility and ownership contributes to a widening gender equality gap in the industry. Meanwhile, female laborers on coffee farms are often denied the education and resources that their male coworkers are entitled to, placing them at a complete disadvantage.
Additional studies have shown that equal resources at the farm level could lead to a substantial increase in women-owned farms, subsequently boosting agricultural production in developing countries by up to 4 percent and providing sustenance for hundreds of millions of people. While this statistic references global agriculture, as a whole, the impact on the coffee supply chain cannot be denied.
Cultural politics play a huge role, as gender biases and patriarchal systems vary from country to country, particularly in the coffee producing regions of the world. Attempting to alter or influence these practices – even in the smallest ways – continuously proves to be an almost insurmountable task.
As with coffee production itself, gender equality issues surrounding women in coffee begin at the farm level, but ultimately stretch to all other stages of the journey, from roasting to retail to even global competition. While those may be topics for another day, initiatives, such as the International Women in Coffee Alliance (IWCA), #coffeetoo and the Partnership for Gender Equity, among others, are making strides, decrying inequality while pursuing increased representation and pay for women in coffee.
As always, socially conscious consumers and coffee companies have the power to enact change. With increased awareness and acknowledgement, the hope for gender equality in the coffee industry continues to grow each day.