11 Feb 2022

On Valentine’s Day, Fairtrade Flowers Mean Gender Equality - An Interview with Fairtrade Africa's Gender Coordinator Susan Limisi

Valentine’s Day is a day for love, romance, and fragrant floral bouquets. But we can also make it a day for gender equality. That’s because when it comes to Fairtrade flowers, more than half of the 73,000 workers on Fairtrade certified farms around the world are women.

Fairtrade flower plantations offer a lifeline to rural women, providing essential income, enabling their families to thrive, and increasing their independence. According to a recent report, female flower workers also have more control over money. A third jointly manage household finances and 38 percent are solely responsible for them. Above all, specific Fairtrade programmes enable women flower workers to take part in leadership training, helping them achieve the futures they dream for themselves.

Karen Roses Ravine Roses Kenya 20201

It’s Fairtrade’s role as the connective tissue between social justice and on-the-ground action that inspired Susan Limisi, Fairtrade Africa’s Gender Coordinator, to lead the organization’s gender portfolio across 33 countries in Africa and the Middle East. An experienced gender specialist with a background in gender programming, monitoring and evaluation and psychological counselling, Susan saw in Fairtrade’s mission the opportunity to advance gender equality across the agriculture value chain by working directly with Fairtrade certified producer organizations.

“For Fairtrade, gender equality is not a theoretical concept but a living principle and value,” explains Susan. “We are working towards a world where all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential, and decide on their future irrespective of their gender.”

With nearly 1 billion Fairtrade flower stems sold in 2020 and more than €40 million in Fairtrade Premium generated for flower workers since 2015, Susan Limisi is convinced that Fairtrade’s flower power is critical to delivering gender equality to the agricultural supply chain. The key, she says, is getting more people to see the power of Fairtrade.

“On Valentine’s Day ­- one of the most important days for the sale of Fairtrade roses - we need to amplify the message that buying Fairtrade flowers not only delivers a quality product to the consumer but also meaningful impact to the farm worker. That needs to be made loud and clear in every flower shop on every high street.”

We spoke with Susan Limisi ahead of Valentine’s Day to get her take on how the small act of buying Fairtrade flowers can have a big impact on building a better world for women farmers.

Thank you for speaking with us, Susan. First of all – what does gender equality mean to you and why are you committed to achieving it?

I view gender equality as a state where all persons can have the space to exist, be heard, contribute, meaningfully, participate without barriers of any form, real or imagined, such as biases, retrogressive norms, stereotypes and discrimination.

I firmly believe that inclusive representation throughout our operations is fundamental to us achieving meaningful progress and sustainable development. My previous work in contexts where marginalization is rife and inclusive decision-making is absent gave me the impetus to collaborate with those often left behind to eliminate the barriers that hinder gender equality.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women comprise on average 43% of the agricultural labour force in producer nations. Yet women have less access to resources such as land, information, credit and training, and are often overlooked for leadership roles. That’s why Fairtrade is dedicated to working with producer organizations to achieve gender equality.

How is Fairtrade working towards a more gender equal society?

Fairtrade promotes gender equality throughout our work with producer organizations, in alignment with our 2021-2025 strategy and in support of our contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals. We are being deliberate and strategic in crafting interventions aimed at promoting women’s active engagement in the producer organizations, which historically have often been male dominated. We are working towards a world where all farmers and workers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential, and decide on their future, irrespective of their gender.

What activities does Fairtrade engage in to promote gender equality among producer organizations?

Fairtrade works with the producer organizations on diverse activities and programmes to progress their gender equality efforts. One such programme is the Women’s School of Leadership, run by Fairtrade Africa to build women’s leadership and entrepreneurship skills. The programme first ran in Cote D’Ivoire, where it reached more than 34,000 farmers in 2019 alone! We recently piloted it with flower workers in Ethiopia and are now scaling it up to flower farms in Kenya.

Through this programme, more women are taking up leadership positions across the agriculture value chain. One such example is Addis Petros, who worked as a harvester at Sher flower farm in Ethiopia until 2019. As a result of the skills acquired from the leadership school, she now works as an accountant with the local municipality in her hometown and runs a successful poultry business.

Apart from the schools of leadership, the establishment and training of inclusive gender committees in the flower farms has provided a mechanism of addressing key gender issues, such as gender-based violence, amongst the workers. Fairtrade Africa has also supported flower farms to develop and implement gender policies. As well as being a Fairtrade Standards requirement, such a policy ensures that gender equality, inclusion, and mainstreaming is upheld and zero tolerance for discrimination at the flower farms is implemented.

You work across a broad swathe of territory, from South Africa to the Middle East. What are some of the challenges that you encounter in your work?

Working across such an expansive scope comes with some challenges. One challenge is the diverse cultural practices within the different contexts. Understanding these cultures is critical to the success of our gender equality programmes, as is having buy-in from the duty bearers. This helps ensure that they maintain ownership of the process and that no harm is caused.

Another challenge is the diverse range of gender issues that different producer organizations face. Hence, the need to tailor programmes that speak to the needs of specific producer organizations.

You have obtained some key successes in delivering gender equality efforts to Fairtrade flower producers. What are some examples that stick out in your mind?

I’m proud of the inclusive gender committees we have helped to establish on the flower farms. The committees provide a learning platform for the workers on gender issues and an avenue to address gender challenges before escalating them to management.

We’ve also seen many producer organizations increase the maternity leave available to mothers, and establish childcare opportunities within the farms for nursing mothers. The women have time to breastfeed their babies and can return to work without having to lose their jobs.

As we approach Valentine’s Day, what would you like to say to consumers about some of their most favourite Fairtrade products?

Purchasing Fairtrade is a direct way consumers can contribute to the gender empowerment of women farmers and agricultural workers around the world. I want to encourage those who celebrate Valentine’s Day to seek out Fairtrade certified flowers. They not only bring joy, love, and warmth to your homes and loved ones. They also support flower workers to put food on the table, send a child to school, and improve their livelihoods. On Valentine’s Day, Fairtrade flowers mean gender equality.