‘You no longer have to lower your head and wait for the man to tell you what to do; now we make our own decisions and share activities and responsibilities with our partners.’
ETICO, an ethical trading company that works closely with the co-op) both had strong gender policies and were looking for ways of supporting women through this contract. The idea of including a component for women’s unpaid work came as a flash of inspiration. After rough calculations, a figure of 960 cordobas a year, approximately $50 per manzana (0.7 of a hectare) was agreed – as a recognition and recompense for the contribution to production made by women.
This calculation, and its addition to the costs, was accepted by The Body Shop, although they wanted more justification and more detail as to what was actually being paid for. Subsequently some coffee buyers have also agreed to make a similar addition.
The funds generated from this price increase are used to provide resources for women’s empowerment in the community – for example, savings and loans schemes which fund artisan work, catering and the preparation of jams and wines for sale in the co-op shop. Educational programmes are also a priority, and groups of women are encouraged to work together in collective businesses. Since this development started, there have been more women than men joining the co-ops as new members, an increase in the numbers of women initiating new projects, and a remarkable 100-per-cent payback rate on loans made to women.
These changes have led to an increased sense of self-esteem among the women, who now have greater confidence to speak and participate in the affairs of the co-operatives. The women feel more valued and less timid; many say they now have a voice. They no longer feel invisible, or as though they were the property of their husbands. There is a general feeling from the women, a sentiment that is often repeated, that: ‘somos tomadas en cuenta’ (We are now appreciated, taken into account).
The decision to include a component for women’s unpaid labour, including domestic work in the home, in contracts setting out the costs of production for sesame oil and coffee appears to have had a remarkable effect on the women beneficiaries. In part this would seem to be due to the co-operative/Fair Trade framework, which prioritizes solidarity and collective responsibility. It is also the case that this is not a time-limited aid project, but represents a permanent change to the structure of labour costs which so far has been received positively by the buyers. The recognition this entails is crucial. Though this initiative has taken place in the Global South, at the start point of the value chain, the principle applies equally to the situation of women in other parts of the world, whose domestic work is similarly undervalued.