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A case study of gender, health, and Fair Trade in Nicaragua



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The impact of global economic policies on health equity and social development has been well-documented and, in the current phase of economic globalization, profound health inequities have been attributed to these policies. In response to these inequitable trade conditions, which are especially pronounced in the trade of boom-and-bust commodities like coffee, alternative trade models such as Fair Trade have proliferated. Although there is great potential for these alternative economic policies to achieve health and gender equity, these considerations have largely been left out of existing analyses, which focus on gender-blind economic, organizational, and environmental indicators. To address these omissions, this study explores the experiences, perceptions, and aspirations of an organized group of coffee-producing women with regards to Fair Trade. The study was conducted in Northern Nicaragua in 2009 and focuses on the experiences of women supported by a local feminist organization, la Fundación Entre Mujeres, in an embedded, single case study design. It is informed by participant-observation, interviews, and dialogic focus groups. The study situates participants’ perceptions and aspirations in a globalization and health framework as well as an empowerment framework. Considered in this light, women’s experiences provide valuable insights about the perceived and potential health and gender impacts of alternative models of trade and provide a vision for the future directions of these models. The women’s experiences reveal that although valuable benefits are being experienced as a result of participation in Fair Trade – especially in terms of a higher income and a commitment to organic agriculture – there are lingering doubts as to whether Fair Trade is actually "fair" or simply "better". The women supported by la Fundación Entre Mujeres aspire to more equitable trade characterized by solidarity, justice, a focus on women’s rights, and a fairer valuation and recognition of women’s efforts inside and outside of coffee. In order to move towards this "fair" system of trade, the current Fair Trade model must become more oriented towards equitable control for all of its stakeholders and must broaden its definition of empowerment so as to more actively and vocally participate in the broader contexts of international trade that are influencing health and gender equity for women around the world.



gender, health, fair trade, empowerment, social determinants of health, coffee, Nicaragua, Fundación Entre Mujeres



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Community Health and Epidemiology


Community Health and Epidemiology


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