International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year to recognize the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. Equal Exchange is proud to support women-centered projects through our work with small farmer co-ops. Today we’re highlighting a few of them. From income diversity to leadership training, these projects represent the ways in which organizing can bring opportunity.
New Women’s Initiatives at the Tierra Nueva Co-op in Nicaragua
By Susan Sklar, Interfaith Program Manager
At the Tierra Nueva Union of Co-operatives in the Boaco region of Nicaragua, some new initiatives are helping women to improve their economic conditions. Delegates from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Equal Exchange traveled to Nicaragua this past January to visit Equal Exchange´s coffee farmer partners. Members explained how they are trying to help women become active participants in the co-operative.
In Nicaragua, there’s a common understanding that the ownership of land belongs to men; when a woman marries and inherits land from her father, her husband automatically assumes control over it. But Tierra Nueva, a union of 600 small coffee and honey farmers, is making an effort to change gender relationships and inequitable practices. In 2006, Tierra Nueva applied for a grant to conduct a gender survey among its farmers. The focus groups and interviews documented what was already widely known: that the participation of women in Tierra Nueva farming co-operatives was extremely limited. As a direct result of these findings, Tierra Nueva created a gender policy program that was officially approved by the membership in October. It formally authorized the actions of the Women’s Commission, which is composed of five female representatives from the various primary coffee co-ops.
Last year, the Women’s Commission founded the “Women’s Leadership School,” which offers classes on topics such as: legal tools for protecting the rights of women and children, techniques for creating healthy relationships within the co-op, and trainings on building self esteem and confidence. The commission is addressing many aspects of gender relationships and has established a course for men on the “building of a new sensitive masculinity.” The reality is that although some husbands may discourage their wives from participating in the programs, as more women take classes or involve themselves in new enterprises they are influencing their female neighbors to become more active. The co-op has a budget that’s devoted to guarantee the gender equity programs which includes the creation of a new curriculum for women who wish to start their own small businesses.
Given these initiatives, Tierra Nueva women are getting more involved in the economic life of the co-op—particularly its growing honey business. An increasing amount of women are purchasing hives and paying fees to other farmers so that they may install hive boxes on their land when certain flowers blossom—or they may give the farmer a portion of the honey harvest.
“Honey production presents an opportunity for the women; the costs are low and they can help one another to succeed,” said Agueda Ordenana, a member of the five-member Women’s Commission. The most challenging part of the work is the transportation of the hive boxes to the next farm. “That’s when teamwork comes into play,” said Ordenana. “The beekeepers pool their resources to rent a truck and to physically help one another other to move the hive boxes to new locations.” There are presently about 100 female beekeepers who own about 500 hives.
There’s also a new youth skills program designed for the next generation of co-op members, which is appealing to new female members. This year the leadership of the co-operative encouraged three younger women to enroll in a training for the four coffee “cupping” positions. The women are learning skills for possible careers in what has traditionally been a male dominated field. The trends are promising. By this past December, women’s participation in the gender program increased to 52 participants. The Female Leadership School graduated its first class of 24 women last April with a second class due to graduate today on International Women’s Day.
The women of San Fernando, Peru, formed a women’s committee to talk about their daily lives and to brainstorm ways to improve their situation. Marketing Writer Ashley Symons reflects on her conversations with some of these inspiring women.
Alejadrina from San Fernando Co-op talks about the power of organization, why she loves coffee farming, and the importance of a fair price.
Learn how women in the CESMACH Co-op in Chiapas are organizing to protect the biosphere, feed their families and diversify their incomes.