In celebration of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, Fairtrade America highlights progress made by its gender equality initiatives across the globe while continuing to strengthen its role as an ally to women in farming communities. 

The group says an estimated 60-80 percent of the world’s food is produced by women, yet there is a significant gender gap in agriculture where female farmers have less access than their male counterparts to resources such as land, information, credit, training and supplies. 

Gender equality is a core area of impact for Fairtrade America. To enable the environment needed for success, Fairtrade delivers educational programs which raise women’s participation in their farming cooperatives and communities.

In 2017, Fairtrade established the Women’s School of Leadership in Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen women’s voices in their families, cooperatives and communities, so they are in a better position to assume leadership roles and contribute to the economy and society. This program brings women cocoa farmers together for a year of training and mentorship on topics of human rights and gender equality, as well as financial management, negotiation and diversifying income sources. To date, nearly 1,000 women and more than 200 men have participated in this program. Thirty members of the 2020 class graduated in May 2020.  

“I believe women have the power to help bring our communities out of poverty, but lots of women don’t believe in themselves,” said Rosine Bekoin, a graduate of the Women’s School of Leadership and secretary of the Women’s Society at CAYAT cocoa cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire. “If you can save money, you can be the head of the family. Why are you walking behind? Put yourself in front, women!”

Based on the program’s success, Fairtrade organizations in Central Asia, Indonesia and India are opening similar schools to improve women’s opportunities and help redress the gender imbalance in agricultural communities. 

“While our rigorous standards insist upon nondiscrimination, a holistic change from local governments, companies and individuals is needed to position women as equals and leaders in their communities,” said Peg Willingham, executive director of Fairtrade America. “We are most proud of our grassroots programs that make a direct impact on women’s livelihoods. Fairtrade also takes action to address systemic gender inequality at the policy level and by partnering with brands that are making a tangible impact for women in farming communities.”

Fairtrade America’s parent organization, Fairtrade International, recently signed the UNECE Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development, a practical framework to help women in agriculture obtain better access to resources like land, credit, and resources available to their male counterparts.

Ben & Jerry’s, a long-time Fairtrade commercial partner, has been working to improve farming practices and access to vital assets for the cocoa cooperatives it sources from in Côte d’Ivoire. Fairtrade is engaging more businesses in such programs to support and empower women in farming communities. Project improvements can include training programs for women in the cocoa cooperatives and continued promotion of empowering women.

“Fairtrade will always work hard to ensure women receive equal opportunities worldwide,” Willingham said. “As we fight for justice for future generations, we celebrate those women who have demonstrated tireless perseverance and courage to attain the life they deserve for themselves and their families.”