Gender Issues: How Coffee Compares to Tea

At the end of last month I went on a fantastic trip to Uganda where I met coffee growers at a workshop organised by ETP member Mars Drinks and the Coffee Quality Initiative, that was looking at ways to empower female farmers and change their lives for the better. The workshop was of great interest to me/ETP to get an understanding of gender issues in the coffee sector and how the industry is dealing with them.

The participants were all farmers and the ratio was 50:50 men to women. In fact, some of the women were accompanied by their children some of whom were under one year’s old. In my opinion, this was very positive because it proves the willingness of women to learn and be empowered no matter what responsibilities or burdens they have.
Male and female responsibilitiesDuring the workshop, the participants were taken through the difference between gender and sex. One of the most touching discussions on this topic was when they were asked to say what they like and don’t like about being a man or woman. It was also an eye open for most of the men in the room because it made them realise how much work a woman does in a day. This was made clearer when the participants were asked to list male and female activities in a day from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed – the female list was far longer with very little free time.  This also happens to be the case with female tea farmers in Kenya – see picture or download: Poster: Male & Female Responsibilities in Tea Farming Communities, Kenya

In another session participants were encouraged to develop their own personal and community visions and a road map to get there. This made me realise that gender issues are similar in coffee and tea, with the most common issues being:

  • Women barely have time to rest because they are responsible for household work as well as working on the farm.
  • There are more women working at the bottom of the value chain and few if any at the decision making level.
  • Women do most of the work at the farm but men get paid for the produce.
  • Most men do not involve women in deciding how the money is spent.
  • There are inherent cultural beliefs that women should not own land and are inferior to men.

For the last two years, ETP has been rolling out social issues training to tea factory workers on these issues and we have seen very positive changes both in the work place and at home. Factory management have put measures and policies in place to monitor improvements and the training is clearly beginning to bear fruit.

Our plan this year is to train community leaders, buying centre committee members (where farmers sell their leaf), and graduates from the farmer field schools who will then train the wider tea farming communities.

To solve some of these gender issues at community level and the farmer level is a challenge because of current cultural beliefs, but I am positive that with our training and the right approach, we shall solve them.