Danielle Wood, NCA Next Genner and Social Impact Manager at Inspire Brands, recently sat down with Kimberly Easson, founder and CEO of The Partnership for Gender Equity, for a discussion on her organization’s mission and the issues facing women in coffee. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Unfortunately, gender gaps and inequities are prevalent in coffee-growing regions around the world. While men traditionally transport and sell the coffee, women are frequently responsible for the work affecting coffee quality and yields. Despite their crucial role in the coffee growing process, women are often excluded from decision-making and denied access to critical resources necessary for their success.
That’s where the Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE) comes in.
Danielle Wood: What is the Partnership for Gender Equity, and what does it stand for?
Kimberly Easson: PGE believes that gender equity is the foundation for healthy families, communities and a sustainable supply chain. PGE’s mission is to shine the spotlight on the importance of gender equity and work across coffee and cocoa sectors to embed approaches to drive transformative change. Recognizing that farming women and their families are overburdened and underappreciated, PGE wants to make a difference in their lives. Gender Equity is about everyone, not just women and PGE’s unique approach focuses on the entire family structu
DW: How did you come up with the idea for PGE?
KE: I’ve been working in coffee for 30 years. I started by coincidence when I lived in Costa Rica, working with Café Britt and then never wanted to leave. My focus has always been on building stronger relationships along the supply chain – in particular through my work with FairTrade and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). At CQI, I helped to expand the partnership base and financial resources of the organization. I realized they lacked a strategic approach to gender in their funding proposals – a growing requirement of donors – and this became the foundation for setting up PGE. I wanted CQI’s development work be inclusive of gender equity and recognized the opportunity to foster a greater partnership in the industry to drive change. I spearheaded the initial research in 2015 for the industry to use as a helpful resource to better understand why gender equity was important. Pretty quickly, we realized that the opportunity for PGE was starting to grow beyond the scope of CQI and so we agreed to “spin off” PGE as a separate non-profit organization, which happened officially in April 2019.
DW: Can you speak to some of the challenges associated with gender equity in coffee?
KE: Gender Equity is a complex topic, but thankfully now there is more awareness. It is a significant human rights, social justice and sustainability issue. Companies see the importance but do not know what to do, which makes it difficult for them to take action. There is a lack of data and no real clarity about what women do in the supply chain. Very few countries are collecting sex-disaggregated data about the roles of women in coffee. The embedded culture of coffee farming was set up to be male-dominated and driven, yet we know women do a significant portion of the labor. To support the success of farming families and communities, and the sector as whole to be more resilient, we need to shine light on farming as a family business and value the work of men and women equally.
DW: What is something about women in coffee that you want more people to know?
KE: The coffee supply chain is gender biased. PGE is focusing on producing countries in origin but up and down the supply chain, bias exists. Increased gender equity means families work more as a team. Better communication and working in this different way can improve income and the overall wellbeing of a family. There are also many benefits for men in achieving greater gender equity. For example, there is a lot of pressure on men to bear all financial responsibility for the household. This burden can be reduced when both men and women have the opportunity to earn income, and share decision-making about how to best spend that money to meet family needs.
DW: Can you speak to some of the projects you’ve been working on like the Virtual Learning Journey and the Gender Equity Index?
KE: The Virtual Learning Journey is a way for companies to directly engage with what’s happening in their supply chain. It is a 10-week online series that brings together men and women from different farmer organizations to explore perspectives and better understand gender equity. Their organizations take a diagnostic and receive a report from PGE that serves as a snapshot of their current performance on gender equity. As a result, producer organizations are able to understand the general need for gender equity and create a roadmap of where they’d like to go.
This road map highlights opportunities where industry can invest directly to support their efforts – such as investing in a masculinities training, or improving a gender policy. The resulting conversations about gender equity improve understanding of the issue and strengthen the relationships with buyers. This gives companies a chance to invest in opportunities to advance gender equity. The voice of the roaster is key in driving change, since farmer organizations will take action on an issue if they know it is important to roasters.
The Gender Equity Index (GEI) is the evolution of the first diagnostic tool created for farmer organizations. The work with farmer organizations is critical, yet we realized that if we want to really have a transformative impact in the global sector, we need to work with different levels of the supply chain. This tool is used to advise extension and advisory service providers – including trading companies, development organizations, and producing country extension agencies – about their performance on gender equity. We provide recommendations and work with these companies to create a gender equity development plan to ensure their services are not gender biased – with the goal that every dollar invested in coffee is invested in a way that is gender equitable, and ultimately reaches, benefits and empowers women.
Industry members recognize that extension services broadly have room for improvement. The GEI supports service providers to improve their services by enabling them to better understand the needs and opportunities of their target beneficiaries / clients – both women and men. With greater clarity about the needs and issues that impact their clients, they can better target services to respond to those needs. As a result the overall benefit and impact of those services improves. This also corresponds to higher return on investment of those services.
To learn more about PGE’s work, visit https://www.genderincoffee.org/.