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Making the invisible count: developing participatory indicators for gender equity in a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Nicaragua



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Reducing health disparities requires intervention on the social determinants of health, as well as a means to monitor and evaluate these actions. Indicators are powerful evaluation tools that can support these efforts, but they are often developed without the input of those being “measured” and invariably reflect the value judgments of those who create them. This is particularly evident in the measurement of subjective social constructs such as gender equity, and the participation and collaboration of the intended beneficiaries are critical to the creation of relevant and useful indicators. These issues are examined in the context of a study to develop indicators to measure gender equity in the Nicaraguan Fair Trade coffee cooperative PROCOCER. Recent studies report that Fair Trade cooperatives are not adequately addressing the needs of its women members. Indicators can provide cooperatives with a consistent means to plan, implement, and sustain actions to improve gender equity. This study used participatory and feminist research methods to develop indicators based on focus groups and interviews with women members of PROCOCER, the cooperative staff, and external experts. The findings suggest that the cooperative has a role in promoting gender equity not only at the organizational level, but in the member families as well. Moreover, gender equity requires the empowerment of women in four broad dimensions of measurement: economic, political, sociocultural, and wellbeing. The indicator set proposes 22 objective and subjective indicators for immediate use by the cooperative and 7 indicators for future integration, mirroring its evolving gender strategy. The results also highlight salient lessons from the participatory process of indicator development, where the selected indicators were inherently shaped by the organizational context, the emerging research partnership, and the unique study constraints. These findings speak to the need for continued efforts to develop a critical awareness and organizational response to gender inequities, as well as the importance of providing spaces for women to define their own tools of evaluation.



community-based participatory research, gender equity, Fair Trade, Nicaragua, indicators



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Community Health and Epidemiology


Community Health and Epidemiology


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