Gender equity and health within Fair Trade certified coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua : tensions and challenges
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Although Fair Trade provides better trading mechanisms and a set of well-documented tangible benefits for small-scale coffee producers in the Global South, large inequities persist within Fair Trade certified cooperatives. In particular, gender equity and women’s empowerment are considered to be integral considerations of this system but visible gender inequities within certified cooperatives persist. Responding to this apparent contradiction, local partners in Nicaragua articulated a need to better understand how gender equity is understood and acted upon and thus this research project—an exploration of implemented gender equity-promoting processes at three different organizational levels (a national association of small-scale coffee producers, a second-tier cooperative, and a base cooperative)—emerged. Drawing on feminist and social determinants of health approaches to research, the study was informed by semi-structured key informant interviews and document revision. Both the interviews and the documents revealed that although gender work is being considered at all three levels, each organization’s approach and interpretation is unique, which exposes different challenges, tensions, and experiences. Notably, results indicate that there is no clear definition of gender equity amongst the different organizational levels. As a result, these groups appear to be interpreting gender equity, and therefore initiating equity-promoting processes based on different criteria. Interviews also revealed that although there is no evidence of active discrimination or exclusion of women within cooperatives, gender equity work is nonetheless constrained by a constellation of socio-cultural and organizational challenges that women face. Examples of socio-cultural challenges revealed through the interviews include illiteracy, ascribed child-rearing responsibilities, household chores, machista culture, land tenure arrangements and gendered power relations in terms of decision-making, while organizational challenges include the attitudes and influence of leaders, a lack of gender mainstreaming in the cooperative’s work and the fact that becoming a member requires an input of resources that most women do not have access to. In eliciting experiences and perspectives from various levels of organizations in the Fair Trade coffee sector, the research revealed numerous tensions between rhetoric and practice. These tensions reflect blind spots in Fair Trade marketing and research wherein existing rhetoric does not reflect the experiences of the women, cooperatives, and organizations shared in this research. The three most predominant tensions that are explored in this study are: empowerment and organizational autonomy versus standardization; the subordination of gender work to commercial interests and; the concentration of power within democratically-organized cooperatives. The study acknowledges that it is not the primary role of Fair Trade to solve gender inequities, but does suggest that through some basic changes, including most notably a stronger consideration of local contexts, Fair Trade and local cooperatives can effectively support local gender work and contribute to women’s empowerment and health.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
DepartmentCommunity Health and Epidemiology
ProgramCommunity Health and Epidemiology
Copyright DateApril 2011
social determinants of health