Women play a fundamental role in agriculture, hence the struggle for gender equality according to the Sustainable Development Goals

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The role of IWCA in promoting gender equality

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) aims at promoting women’s empowerment in the coffee community worldwide, encouraging the participation of women in all sectors and phases of the coffee industry, in order for them to achieve meaningful, decent and sustainable lives. To do so, IWCA provides an increased market visibility and encourages strategic partnerships and leadership development. Even in such a challenging year as 2020 IWCA had been pursuing its founding values and approaches, which can be summed up in three words: connect, empower, advance (International Women’s Coffee Alliance, 2020).

The network power: global connection, local impact

IWCA encourages and promotes women’s empowerment, notably in the coffee industry, by supporting a worldwide network of independent and self-organized groups called IWCA Chapters, developing each its own strategies and models. In 2020 IWCA network expanded and it now includes 27 countries (International Women’s Coffee Alliance, 2020).

Source: (International Women’s Coffee Alliance, n.d.)

Connecting people and groups has the power to change today’s world for the better. The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, in fact, aim at eradicating poverty, improving work and economic growth, offering quality education, enhancing gender equality, in a sustainable partnership perspective (United Nations, n.d.).

 Women’s role in agriculture and rural economies

Women play a vital role in agriculture and rural development, and studies and researches show that 60 to 80% of our food is produced by women (FairTrade Italia, 2021). Nevertheless, their work is often under-estimated and they face inequalities and gender-specific constraints which often prevent them from accessing adequate resources, land, information, education, loans and technical assistance (Oxfam International, n.d.). Women represent an average of 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, 20% in the Americas and 50% in East and Southeast Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011).

As women are crucial to agriculture, and agriculture is crucial to women’s empowerment, improving women’s access to land and security directly affects farm productivity. Moreover, strengthening women’s status and influence in the household has positive implications for improving household welfare as well (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011).

Colombia: women farmers growing coffee and reinforcing peace

Colombia’s situation is connected to the hard times caused by a 50-year-long armed conflict, during which – since 1985 – more than 7 million people were displaced, and which came to an end with the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (UN Women, 2018). However, decent life, working conditions and income are necessary to ensure peace and stability.

 The story of Mercedes Ruiz, a small coffee planter in Colombia, is a great example of how women and agriculture, notably in the coffee field (pun intended), can positively affect a country’s social and economic context. In 2016 Mercedes and 600 other indigenous and rural women from Almaguer, a rural municipality in the lush Colombian Massif in the south-west of the country, founded the Association of Rural Women Almaguereñas (AMURA), with the support of UN Women (UN Women, 2017). This association aims at improving women’s social and economic condition by taking their voices and demands into account and by raising awareness – engaging also male local leaders and family members – of women’s rights and women’s vital role in agriculture and in the development of rural economies (UN Women, 2017).

Source: UN Women/Laura Soriano (UN Women, 2017)

Cielo Gomez, a mother of three, a wife, and now a coffee grower with her own land in the municipality of El Tablón de Gómez in the southeast of Nariño territory, Colombia, is another great example. When Cielo’s family was given back their land, it was only in her husband’s name. Thanks to a UN Women project implemented by the Corporation for the Social, Technological and Economic Development of Colombia (CORPDESARROLLO), funded by the Government of Sweden, Cielo managed to develop her leadership and business skills, and learnt about her rights, including the right to land. She now owns one of the three lots of land her family has and can afford to hire 10 workers to cultivate it (UN Women, 2018), in the name of economic autonomy and love for coffee. “I have 10,000 bushes of coffee now. I used to think that women could plant, grow and harvest coffee, but not trade it,” she says, adding that she asked her husband to help with planting the coffee. “It will be a 50-50 partnership, I told him, and we would both benefit from selling the coffee.” (UN Women, 2018).

Source: (UN Women, 2018)


FairTrade Italia. (2021). Le nostre storie di commercio equo e solidale. Retrieved from https://mailchi.mp/fairtradeitalia/dharshani-una-ragazza-speciale-4738793?e=2a91cababc

International Women’s Coffee Alliance. (2020). International Women’s Coffee Alliance: 2020 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51d3052de4b001d5c138c4f7/t/6036b615fcd6b561bd7a3952/1614198323748/IWCA+Annual+Report+Final+2.24.2021.pdf?mc_cid=fc1d5f8d41&mc_eid=dfe8c94fdf

Oxfam International. (n.d.). Empowering women farmers to end hunger and poverty. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from The power of people against poverty website: https://www.oxfam.org/en/empowering-women-farmers-end-hunger-and-poverty

UN Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011). The Vital Role of Women in Agriculture and Rural Development. The Vital Role of Women in Agriculture and Rural Development. Rome. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/mb054e/mb054e.pdf

UN Women. (2017). Colombian women growing coffee, brewing peace. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from Colombian women growing coffee, brewing peace website: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/10/feature-colombian-women-growing-coffee-brewing-peace

UN Women. (2018). Photo essay: Growing coffee, sowing peace in Colombia. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from Photo essay: Growing coffee, sowing peace in Colombia website: https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2018/8/photo-colombia-coffee-growers

United Nations. (n.d.). The 17 Goals. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://sdgs.un.org/goals

Photo Credits a: UN Women. (2018). Photo essay: Growing coffee, sowing peace in Colombia. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from Photo essay: Growing coffee, sowing peace in Colombia website: https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2018/8/photo-colombia-coffee-growers

Photo credits b: Santamaria, M. (2019). Tour del Caffè in Colombia: Come Funziona e Quale Scegliere. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from Pimp my pimp website: https://www.pimpmytrip.it/tour-caffe-colombia/