Women require a seat at the table

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) held their annual luncheon on March 25th during the NCA Convention in Austin, Texas. The IWCA exists to empower women in the international coffee community to “achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry.”

The luncheon’s keynote speaker was Meg Jones, chief of economic empowerment for UN Women, who noted that 70% of the world’s poorest are women. Her speech focused on the gender disparities within global procurement processes, the necessity for gender specific policies and the need to stimulate demand for goods and services produced by women-owned businesses, especially within the coffee industry. “Through coffee alone, 500 million lives could be affected,” she said. Jones pointed out that when women acquire the tools to grow better coffee, negotiate prices, or even build their own coffee mill, they typically reinvest 90% of their income in their families (children’s health and education) and community.

Procurement refers to the process of purchasing goods and services from outside suppliers by institutions (public, government and corporations). UN Women finds that gender responsive procurement can have a transformative impact on domestic and international markets and contribute to women’s economic empowerment. And yet, per WeConnect 2015, women win only an estimated 1% of procurement contracts. Women entrepreneurs have difficulty obtaining procurement contracts because they face myriad structural disadvantages.

Women are involved at all levels of the coffee industry. In the coffee-producing regions many of the disadvantages women face include limited access to coffee-farming information and training, markets and resources. Another challenge is acquiring land titles. “The absence of a land title is an impediment to women’s coffee businesses because they can’t get bank loans,” said Jones.

Women face the greatest challenges in countries where there is conflict and unrest, but there are also significant opportunities in these areas. “After the bullets and bombings stop, there is a time of rebuilding and reconstruction, and jobs have to start again. Women need to be at the table when the post-conflict peace and economic development conversations are taking place,” stressed Jones.

She said the IWCA can have a stronger role in empowering women and helping them to access procurement prospects. “More women need to source more procurement opportunities.”

According to Jones, the IWCA chapters around the world – which now stand at 20 – can provide advice, guidance on budget allocation, policy, and where impediments are, among others. She also suggested that the IWCA have a representative on the NCA (National Coffee Association) board of directors. UN Women will also work with the IWCA to help further advance the empowerment of women in coffee-growing regions.

The IWCA is holding its bi-annual convention, August 3-5th in Puebla City, Mexico (www.iwcaconvention.com). Prior to the conference there will be a two-day leadership program for women from coffee-growing areas.

Helping women achieve economic empowerment is simply smart business. A 2016 McKinsey & Company report, The Power of Parity, revealed that gender inequality is a global issue, and, in economic terms, will result in an estimated loss of up to USD $12.1 trillion in economic activity by 2025.

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