Gender mainstreaming encompasses two main ideas: first, the incorporation of a gendered perspective or analysis into the outcomes of any given project design, implementation, and evaluation; and second, the proactive inclusion of women into decision-making processes for that same project. Advocates for a more just and environmentally sustainable coffee industry have begun, though minimally, to examine coffee production through a gendered lens, with important implications for how we interpret research, development policy and the industry as a whole.
Advocates of gender mainstreaming argue that, in its absence, women are under- or misrepresented in important ways. A few examples come immediately to mind from my own work on gender mainstreaming that, when added up, underscore the need to incorporate a gendered analysis in the implementation of development and environmental sustainability programs:
- Following the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the United Nations instated a 17-member transitional governing council in Kosovo. While careful emphasis was placed on ensuring ethnic balance within new judicial and political structures, the council was comprised entirely of men, despite a female majority in Kosovo and the prevalence of multi-ethnic women’s networks led by educated women with government and NGO experience. The use of sexual violence as a tool of war to advance ethnonationalism during the Yugoslav conflicts was obvious to many women’s group leaders in the region, as was the need for post-conflict reconstruction to address the highly-gendered nature of the violence. Yet gender issues were considered, at best, a side issue to resolving ethnic tensions, and at worst, a distraction.
- The International Boundary and Water Commission, a U.S.-Mexican partnership to manage the Rio Grande, has endeavored to share power between Mexican and United States commissioners. Yet in its nearly 100-year-old history, the organization has yet to have a female commissioner from either country. Despite a careful attempt to consult with a variety of stakeholders over how the river’s water resources are managed and shared, whether indigenous leaders, farmers and ranchers, environmental advocacy organizations, or business community representatives, participants are consistently male. Underrepresentation from leadership in the commission serves as a barrier between women and the management of a delicate water resource.
- The same lack of female representation plays out on the national government level as well. In 2014, exactly three countries (Rwanda, Bolivia, and Andorra) out of 188 for which data was available had national parliaments in which 50% or more of the seats were held by women. Five countries had no women in parliament whatsoever. And despite a growing body of literature that demonstrates that women are harder hit by environmental crises, including climate change, women remain notably underrepresented in formal delegations to U.N. climate talks. (NB: The Women’s Environment & Development Organization has an excellent app that tracks women’s representation in these negotiations.)
How do these disparate examples relate to coffee?
Like numerous industries in the global North and South alike, coffee cultivation is often characterized by a gendered division of labor. Furthermore, these divisions tend to be accompanied by inequality between men and women.
In two different case studies of coffee communities, Sick (1998) and Sumarti and Farendian Falatehan (2016) found quantifiable differences between male and female coffee farmers’ access to decision-making, land, and other resources. Women laborers in the coffee industry are also more likely to fill the lowest-paid, seasonal positions that characterize large coffee estates and small coffee farms alike. Their findings track closely with studies focusing on other agricultural and natural resources. This dynamic creates a situation where women and men likely have different information and knowledge about coffee production, as well as different needs.
Critically, coffee development programs could be rendered ineffective or even harmful if they do not account for the ways in which the program might impact women and men differently. Thus gender mainstreaming becomes crucial to the success of a project like AMRDI’s #CoffeeLives initiative, which partners with coffee-growing communities to more effectively address both long-term (and new) economic and environmental challenges.
It could be tempting to argue that without gender mainstreaming in coffee cultivation, without women’s unique knowledge and leadership contributions, coffee development programs may be less environmentally sustainable, and less effective overall in building the sustainability and resiliency that is targeted. The relationship remains under-studied, however.
There may be improved sustainability in coffee production with increased input from women coffee farmers, and based on the different knowledge that may be produced by women’s different roles in coffee, I would hedge my bets that this would be the case. It’s a worthy research question to be sure! Nevertheless, despite its prevalence in discussions of gender mainstreaming, more research is needed into how gender mainstreaming affects environmental outcomes.
Meanwhile, arguing for gender mainstreaming on the basis on women’s necessary contributions to environmental sustainability inadvertently provides a sort of litmus test for women to earn entry into decision-making. Conversely, men’s participation is not linked to men’s unique effectiveness. Addressing the inequalities between women and men in the coffee trade is reason enough to have a proactive plan in place to ensure that women coffee farmers have a seat at the decision-making table, and that any coffee development programs incorporate a gendered analysis of their projects’ outcomes.
Throughout my graduate work on the intersection of gender and environmental sustainability, I have examined dozens of case studies documenting the unintended social and environmental consequences that resulted from well-meaning development organizations neglecting to incorporate a gendered lens into their work. The gender inequalities that often plague women farmers are consistent across regions, agricultural products, and natural resources.
The coffee industry has drawn the attention of the international development community as one area with both great need and rich potential in the areas of climate change and fair trade. These efforts are incomplete, however, without a gender mainstreaming component, a gap that the International Coffee Organization (ICO), among others, has only recently begun to address. The ICO has produced a set of recommendations for gender mainstreaming in coffee development projects. Likewise, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance is a rich source of information, including annual reports on the progress and remaining challenges of attaining gender equality in the coffee industry.
Implementing a gender mainstreaming process that fully supports women coffee farmers, both in terms of empowerment and decision-making as well as by more tangibly addressing financial and resource inequalities, can be tricky. Indeed, there are some very real implications for how gender-mainstreaming is argued for – that is, whether women should be included in decision-making because of their usefulness to effective outcomes, or because of values of equity, social justice, and democratic inclusion. Scholars and practitioners continue to debate both the goals and merits of gender mainstreaming, challenges which I will explore in later postings.
Sick, Deborah. 1998. Property, Power, and the Political Economy of Farming Households in
Costa Rica. Human Ecology 26, no. 2: 189-212.
Sumarti, Titik, and Sriwulan Farendian Falatehan. 2016. The Role and Position of Young Coffee
Farmers: The Gap between Generations in the Coffee Business. Agriculture and
Agricultural Science Procedia 9: 500-509.