Celebrating Women in Fairtrade

Ibu Rahmah, second from left, is board chairwoman of Kopepi Ketiara, a coffee cooperative in Indonesia where women play key roles.

Adela Torres of the SINTRAINAGRO trade union, courtesy of BanaFair e.V.

Members of the Tighanimine Women’s Cooperative outside their office in Morocco.

07 March 2013

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, and throughout Fairtrade we honour the hard-working women.

The most recent Fairtrade monitoring report indicates that women represent 20 percent of all farmers and 47 percent of hired workers in Fairtrade. Taken together, one in four Fairtrade producers are women. Women are active in all aspects of Fairtrade, from farming to processing, and in some cases, management of producer organisations and cooperatives.

The dedication of the passionate and dedicated women we feature below has contributed to the increased participation of women in Fairtrade in each of the producer regions. More importantly, these women have helped increase gender equality, workers’ rights, and opportunities for women.

Ibu Rahmah, Chairwoman of Ketiara Coffee Cooperative

To hear Ibu Rahmah tell it, coffee is more than just a commodity in the Central Aceh Regency of Indonesia: it’s like family.

Rahmah would know. Her father was a coffee farmer (and her grandfather before that) and she’s been in the business for over 20 years.

That’s one of the reasons she was elected chairwoman of Ketiara Cooperative, which she started in 2009 with just 38 members. Today, Ketiara boasts 902 small farmers – and 136 are women.

While Rahmah has plenty of women helping her on the managing side of Ketiara, she says she takes the most satisfaction from seeing the success of Ketiara at the village level, where Rahmah has helped establish a link to nearly all the important traders in the regional capital and coffee-hub, Medan. This year, Ketiara estimates it will produce 612 metric tonnes of organic Fairtrade green beans.

Rahmah still maintains her own coffee farm and knows how valuable the women of the region are in contributing to the success of the cooperative.

“In this region,” Rahmah says, “those who deal with the coffee farming day to day are women.”

She adds with a laugh: “The men are usually just smoking a cigarette!”

Ketiara became Fairtrade certified in 2012 and has been investing its Fairtrade Premium to cultivate better coffee and to implement erosion prevention measures. Rahmah says that this month marks the first time Ketiara farmers will receive some of the Fairtrade Premium directly.

“The money is not much,” she says, “but the farmers are very happy.”

Adela Torres, General Secretary of SINTRAINAGRO workers’ union

After a decade of working as a labourer on a banana plantation, Adela Torres knew she wanted to be a defender of workers’ rights. At the time, there were major obstacles for a workers’ rights champion, such as the poor enforcement of social and labour laws, lack of opportunities, gender discrimination, and even extreme violence by armed groups. But Torres was determined to stand up for the rights of the workers and joined the Colombian union SINTRAINAGRO.

Fifteen years later, Torres’s work has helped expand SINTRAINAGRO, which now represents 26,000 workers in Colombia, including 2,500 workers on 20 Fairtrade certified banana plantations. She considers improving the conditions of workers through collective bargaining agreements to be one of her biggest achievements, especially as she was able to “convince employers that if we can achieve dignity for the workers, this can improve production efficiency.”

Torres also highlights her work throughout Colombia and internationally with women workers. She adds that the Women’s Secretariat is one of the most dynamic departments in SINTRAINAGRO.

Despite her success, Torres is well aware that challenges remain. She says currency revaluation and the presence of armed groups in the region make normal union activity difficult.

Regarding Fairtrade workers, unfair tariffs for bananas in certain regions and the stigma regarding the quality of products coming from Colombia are two things Torres is working to change.

“We have therefore insisted that [Fairtrade] plantation workers should be offered the appropriate conditions to be able to do their jobs and fulfil this commitment,” Torres says. “This process is underway.”

The challenges only harden her resolve.

“Each victory involves a major commitment and generally generates more strength to continue working for workers’ rights,” Torres says, “and in particular for the people who need it most - women among them.”

The women of the Tighanimine Cooperative

The fact that Agadir in southwest Morocco has an abundance of argan trees was not lost on a group of village women in a literacy class organized by Nadia Fatmi. They also knew that their region was very poor, and they had no means of generating income for themselves.

Given that argan trees only grow in that part of the world, and that the oil had been a staple in homes in the village for some time, the women in Fatmi’s literacy class decided to do something to lift themselves out of poverty.

In 2007, they started the world’s first argan oil cooperative - Tighanimine - which became Fairtrade certified in 2011.

"It is the ancestral work of women in the south of Morocco," says Tighanimine spokeswoman, Afafe Daoud. "They are the only ones who can break the fruit and extract the oil."

Argan oil has become a key ingredient of luxury cosmetics, and quickly found markets around the world.

By forming a cooperative, the 60 women farmers of Tighanimine challenged a long-standing tradition in their area that a woman's husband or father was the sole bread-winner.

"They were financially dependent on men, one hundred percent" says Daoud.

Initially, the men resisted the women’s initiative – that is, until the extra money started to come in.

"Little by little, when they began to see the economic benefits, they became more cooperative and even encouraged other women to join the cooperative," Daoud recalls..

Tighanimine’s Fairtrade volume remains relatively low, but the cooperative was recently licensed to sell their argan oil with the FAIRTRADE Mark. They have developed their own brand called Tounaroz and plan to sell in Morocco, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the USA. Moving up the value chain ensures that even more benefits reach the women in the cooperative.

In addition to developments on the market side, the cooperative was given an award by the Moroccan Network for Social and Solidarity Economy and the Pan-African Institute for Development for its work in good governance and economic development. And, Fatmi has since been elected to the chair of Fairtrade North African Board.

Daoud says it's easy to see some of the effects Tighanimine has had on the women – such as nicer clothes for themselves or their children, or households that are better maintained. Other benefits, says Daoud, are less obvious.

"Women who work in the cooperative began to have more confidence in themselves, because they feel important in their home."


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